If there is one thing that continues to challenge me as a new vegan, it is navigating the hugely varied and tempting, constantly new and evolving vegan junk food offerings. It is of course, ever predictable, that as veganism has stormed into the mainstream- commercial food companies have realised what a massive market there is out there – and so the choices readily available to us have started to multiply.
It is so tempting to indulge in highly processed foods because they are vegan, new… and because they look delicious!
As ever, life is about balance… and particularly when it comes to mastering a vegan diet you have to do your research, so you make good vegan food choices that are healthy and nutritional. Of course, we all should indulge every now and then, but we should also try to be more mindful of how many processed foods we are throwing into our shopping trolleys. We cannot be ignorant to the fact that vegan food can be unhealthy too.
We do not have a free pass to eat whatever we like.
I have spoken before about the worlds need to label vegans, they want to know why you are vegan and then they want to put you in a little box with your label. I for one, don’t believe in these labels and think anyone living a vegan life will have many reasons for doing so and, any and all are amazing. The more people who choose to support veganism, whether that means one meal a week or by going full on vegan, they all contribute to a more sustainable planet, the protection of animals and an all-round healthier lifestyle.
Following these ‘labels’ …we have ethical vegans, environmental vegans, animal loving vegans, vegans that don’t like the taste of meat, vegans who do like meat- plant based vegans, raw vegans- and many more… and the latest sub section…. The junk food vegans. The label of junk food vegan is a term that has gained traction in the recent vegan movement… and really is a direct result of the huge mainstream adoption of vegan food.
Becoming a vegan can be challenging, and we often feel very restricted when we stop the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. There is a lot of research to do and experimenting – a lot of the time, with foods you have never tried before. The first couple of times I tried to go vegan – this is what slipped me up; simply not preparing and knowing how to effectively eat a varied, healthy, nutritionally balanced and tasty vegan diet.
Therefore, we tend to fall back on the foods that we know and find convenient. Convenience, in this day and age, is champion. With such little time we choose convenience time and time again. There are literally millions of products on supermarket shelves that promise us a one-step process to a complete dinner. It is easy to cave in to these choices, particularly if you’re running on a tight budget, you are low on time or it just looks way too tempting to pass by. We are all human after all.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you consume animal products or not… you either eat well or you don’t. I am not suggesting that, for example- the delicious Marks and Spencer’s Plant Kitchen Mac and Cheese ready meal should not be bought and enjoyed- quite the opposite, in fact.
I love the choices we have now, vegan options can be found in every supermarket, nearly every restaurant… I love the convenient options. I love what has been labelled ‘vegan junk food’, but I also love fruit, vegetables and wholefoods; cooking, discovering and experimenting with fresh, healthy, plant-based, nutritionally rich- super food!!!!
I need both.
What we should aim to do, is significantly cut down the amount of processed food we consume. Because, if we are honest any food that is created in a science lab, just isn’t good for you no matter how good it looks.
And above all else we want and deserve to eat well.
You can be vegan and still have a very poor diet. Ideally, your diet should consist of mostly whole plant-based foods which include vegetables, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, superfoods, healthy fats, and grains. This is what we should try to eat 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, go wild and indulge … try that new vegan sausage roll or pizza but remember the balance.
And don’t forget a lot of those ‘convenient’ processed options can be made at home! Challenge yourself to recreate your favourite vegan junk food and enjoy knowing exactly what you are putting into your body. I am willing to bet the food you make fresh in your own kitchen will be tastier and healthier!
One of my favourite options for a quick and easy dinner is anything from the Plant Kitchen range at Marks and Spencer’s, but particularly their Mac and Cheese. So, for this blog I challenged myself to recreate it… and (spoiler alert) it tasted delicious!
Get inspired and get into the kitchen, recreate and reimagine one of your favourite vegan junk food options and see how much healthier you can make it.
Your imagination in the kitchen can go a long way, so make sure you continue to experiment! Happy cooking!
Recipe: Vegan Mac & Cheese
- 200g of dry whole grain macaroni pasta (or any pasta you have in the cupboard!)
- 200g of broccoli
- 2 medium sized potatoes, cooked
- 1 large carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 65g cashews
- 180ml water
- 60-100ml soy milk (or any plant-based milk)
- 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp sea salt
- A generous dash of paprika
- dash of cayenne (add more if you like it spicy!)
- Start cooking your pasta. Meanwhile, peel the cooked potatoes and the carrot, then chop finely. Put in a small pot together with the chopped garlic and onion. Heat up with a little bit of water and let cook until soft enough to blend and the water has almost disappeared.
- Remove pot from the heat, and put the warm sauce ingredients in a blender jar together with the spices, milk, water, and cashews. Blend cautiously until smooth. Adjust amounts as neccesary and to taste.
- Chop up the broccoli florets and sauté with water in a non-stick pan until soft but still a little crunchy. Add all ingredients in a bowl, mix thoroughly until everything is coated with the sauce. Enjoy warm!
- If you prefer you can also bake the Mac and Cheese… pour into a baking dish and bake at 180 degrees for 20 minutes or until crispy. I like to add some vegan grated cheese (I used Violife) and nutritional yeast on top.