Don’t let a lack of planning tip you off the vegan wagon…
I’ve been there. Standing in a service station, analysing ingredients, wondering what on earth I was going to eat. When I was a transitioning vegan (not fully vegan yet) it was always these moments that caused me to make allowances, and eat something I wasn’t completely happy with. I’d never defer back to meat, but might grab something with a little dairy in. And it seems I wasn’t alone. Many vegans have told me that poor planning had a big impact on them when transitioning. Not carrying snacks, not being aware of where to get vegan food from, failure to meal plan – all of these can cause a temporary lapse in judgment when you’re desperate for something to eat!
Poor planning can also cause new vegans to rely too much on processed foods, such as fake meats and cheese, ready meals and takeaways. Pretty tasty in the short-term! But in the long term, this can lead to nutritional deficits, generally poor health, and ultimately people giving up on a vegan lifestyle because they mistakenly think it is bad for their bodies. No-one can thrive on a junk food diet, vegan or not.
I don’t like to see a ‘hangry’, unhealthy vegan with zero food options, so decided to help! So how can you plan ahead to keep you on the straight and narrow?
Keeping Organised as a New Vegan
As a meat eater, it was probably easy to get by without thinking about meals in advance. You could grab a snack from wherever, or grab takeout on the way home. But thinking in advance helps us all out. It means we eat more healthy, save money on random snacks and meals, and can do some time-saving meal prep in advance!
Consider where you will be for the next few days at meal times, and plan accordingly. Factor drinks and snacks in too – I always have an extra something stashed in my bag, just in case I’m out later than usual! If you’re somewhere new, looking up restaurants online beforehand can help. Check out Tripadvisor – just enter ‘vegan-friendly (TOWN)’ in their search bar, and you should easily find where the plant-based people are going. Then you can narrow the options right down to your path of driving or walking. Happy Cow is also a great website that pinpoints vegan options near to you. It’s available as an app and will show you vegan stores and cafes too.
If you’re just looking to grab and go, see where popular chains are such as Pret A Manger and M&S Food. Most towns, airports and service stations have at least one vegan-friendly chain. In fact, in 2018, the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation So you can get familiar favourites wherever you are! I’ve popped a list of UK chains with good vegan options at the bottom of this post.
You can also personally ask for recommendations on Facebook groups. Local vegans are always happy to point you in the right direction, so that you don’t go hungry. If you’re too impatient to wait for responses, try the search function to see if anybody has asked a similar question in the group recently.
Vegan Meal Planning
Make food in advance and meal plan, to avoid takeaways / spontaneous snacking when you get home. If you know what you’re eating and have the ingredients to hand, you’re more likely to stick to it. Meal planning also helps with nutrition, as you can gauge what you’re eating and pick a variety of things. It allows you to see if you’re eating the same old meals every week, and therefore likely to get bored with your diet or get inadequate nutrition. Everybody – vegan or not – could benefit from a more balanced diet. With junk food consumption high, adult and child obesity still on the rise, and Type 2 Diabetes a global epidemic, we all need to be more aware of what’s going into our bodies.
Meal planning doesn’t have to take up loads of time. Just identify what you already have to hand, and create some simple meals from it. Fill in the gaps with other nutritious meals, and make a shopping list to grab the items you don’t have. You don’t necessarily have to do it a week in advance, either. Three days planning at a time is manageable for me, especially as I may not want food I picked a week ago, by the time I get to the 7th day! You can also grab pre-made meal plans online – Learner Vegan has one to get you started!
Remember to keep your food stocks topped up too. If you’re away for a few days, order an online food shop to be delivered when you return. This will stop you coming back to a completely empty house and panic-ordering a chicken chow mein from your trusty local! You’ll have lovely fresh food ready and waiting! If ordering a food shop isn’t an option, improvise by having long-life milk in the cupboard and bread in the freezer, ready to use when you arrive home.
Planning for Vegan Travel
Travelling comes with its own set of unique needs! You need to know where you’ll be at meal times, but have a backup plan too where possible in case of delays or letdowns. Here are a few tips:
- Take supplies. Non-liquid snacks are great to have on you, even at the airport. I’ve put together a list of great snack ideas at the bottom of this post.
- Know the language if you can. If travelling abroad, try to learn the basics around food ordering and veganism. If you’re stuck, have a copy of the vegan passport to hand. This pocketbook has saved my life many a time! It has common vegan questions and phrases in many different languages. You can show your host or server the book if you don’t feel confident speaking.
- If your travel plan is set in stone, set time aside to research restaurants and supermarkets. If you’re able to prepare your own food, knowing where you can buy basics like soya milk and bread is key. It’s also nice knowing that your destination has some delicious vegan eateries. It may even influence the area in which you decide to book your accommodation!
- Choose accommodation with catering facilities if you can. Sites like Air BnB, and HomeAway, are great for self-catering apartments. That way you have a fridge to store perishables, cupboards for food and an oven to cook.
- Pre-order plane meals where possible. Some airlines will only cater for vegans if you order before the flight, so do give them a call and check.
Spending time at the airport soon? Check out my dedicated guest post ‘How to Survive Being Vegan at the Airport‘.
Using Your Voice
Peer pressure can derail the best-laid plans. Stay firm! Be prepared to speak out for your needs – even if you feel awkward or difficult. Saying no to dinner invites at eateries without vegan options is important – why should you compromise your morals AND pay for the privilege of it? Compromise by suggesting alternative restaurants, offering to book/organise the meal, or simply meet up afterwards so you can still socialise. If you’re the only vegan in your group, it can be difficult being different to everybody else, but it’s also an opportunity to introduce them to tasty vegan food and dispel any myths. You might be surprised to know that 92% of plant-based meals consumed in the UK in 2018 were eaten by non-vegans. Also remember that if you cave in and eat a non-vegan meal once, your friends are likely to take you less seriously and encourage you to do it every time you meet up.
You can also ask eateries if they carry vegan options. While there may not be anything visible on the menu, a friendly and polite conversation with the staff can get you a long way. Chefs may be willing to whip you something up, and some eateries have hidden vegan menus that they don’t even publicise! There may also be vegetarian dishes that are accidentally vegan – not all restaurants are good at labelling. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Keep Connected to Veganism
Remembering why you wanted to be vegan in the first place is key to staying vegan in the long-term. Although veganism is rapidly growing, we don’t live in a predominantly vegan society at the moment. Having a reminder to hand – something you can visualise such as a healthy plant-based you, or a photo of your favourite sanctuary – can help in the early days. In those moments you consider something non-vegan, going back to your roots and having something tangible to hold on to, can make a huge difference. Once you truly see animals as beings, not food, it’s really difficult to eat them. And if you’re vegan for health reasons, remember how being vegan makes your body feel, and how you will feel if you splurge on dairy, for example. Is it really worth it? It’s all in the mindset – so make sure yours is clear and focused!
Plans Gone Astray?
Even those of us with the best-laid plans can end up in a situation where we’re hungry and don’t know where to turn. I have a few tips for these desperate times:
- Look out for chain supermarkets and restaurants that you recognise.
- Google vegan + your current location. Sometimes there will be a lovely cafe or shop right down a side street, that you would have never known about otherwise.
- If you can’t find a complete meal, improvise. Try ordering a collection of side dishes in a restaurant, or put together a collection of snacks to keep you going. Most places sell fruit, nuts and crisps. It’s not ideal, but if you can keep hunger at bay until you reach somewhere more vegan-friendly, it will stop you from making a poor decision.
- Smoothies can also help to fill the gap until you find somewhere with a full meal.
- Stay hydrated. Water is always more important than food. If you’re surviving on snacks for a few hours, make sure you quench your thirst too.
Best UK Chains for Vegan Food
- Pret A Manager.
- Marks and Spencer Food.
- Frankie and Benny’s.
- Pizza Hut.
- Pizza Express.
- Bella Italia.
- Hungry Horse pubs.
- Marston’s pubs have a separate vegan menu.
- Starbucks currently has a couple of options (UK).
- In smaller supermarkets, such as Tesco Extra, you can usually make up your own meal if needs be. A side salad box with added houmous/falafel and some fruit, should be there at a bare minimum.
Vegan Handbag Snacks
- Nakd bars (or other healthy bars).
- Rice cakes.
- Healthy crisps such as Hippeas.
- Protein shakes or juice (with ice cubes to keep cool).
- Savoury muffins or scones.
- Dark chocolate.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Healthy brownies.
- Herbal/tea/coffee in a flask.
- Soup in a thermos.
Portable Vegan Meals
- Salad boxes (with separate dressing to avoid sogginess).
- Peanut butter sandwiches.
- Pasta salad.
- Vegetable couscous.
- Roasted chickpea and quinoa salad.
- Mini sausage rolls.
- Homemade pies or pasties.
- Gazpacho in a flask.
- Samosas, bhajis and pakoras.
- NB: if you have space, you can take most lunches in a cool bag or with an ice pack to keep them cool.
The hardest part of any lifestyle change is the beginning. Finding new foods that you like, and not just being able to grab anything off a shelf, can seem like a lot of hassle. By utilising planning, having a routine, and learning, being vegan becomes much easier and enjoyable. It also becomes easier the longer you do it! It’s been a long, long time since I was caught out without any vegan food – because I developed and utilised the methods above. For anybody transitioning to veganism, I would recommend going fully vegan for at least a month before you give up – I promise you it’s worth it.
Do you have a vegan situation you find it tricky to plan for? Let me know and I’ll help you out!