Whether you're transitioning to a plant-based diet, or have decided to participate in meatless Mondays, one of the most common challenges our vegan readers encounter is finding the perfect meat substitute for their favorite recipes. Following a plant-based diet doesn't have to be hard. In fact, with a bit of preparation, it can be pretty easy. Substituting meat for a plant based meat alternative can help you recreate your family's favorite dinners using healthy, vegan ingredients.
That being said, when searching for a plant-based meat alternative, not all options are healthy. Over the years, vegan products have become more popular, and grocery store shelves are quickly filling with animal-free products that claim to be good for you. When choosing vegan meat substitutes, we recommend checking the ingredients list first.
While some replacements are made with whole food ingredients, others are laden with artificial flavors and preservatives that can cause more harm than good. The healthiest meat substitutes are those made with hearty veggies, legumes and whole foods.
To help make transitioning to a plant-based diet more manageable, we rounded up five of our favorite healthy, vegan meat substitutes as well as ways that you can incorporate them into your weekly meals. Keep scrolling to begin creating your plant-based grocery list one whole food at a time. Here are five meat substitutes for vegans.
Five Vegan Meat Substitutes
When choosing a vegan meat substitute for your recipes, it's important to note that not all replacements are interchangeable. While certain meat substitutes like tofu may work well when added to a stir fry, the texture of it likely won't hold up sandwiched between a hamburger bun. Because of this, the vegan meat substitutes below offer up a wide variety of options and uses, making it easy to create your favorite meals entirely plant-based.
One of the most popular plant based meat substitutes around; tofu is a product made from curdled soy beans. A great source of protein and all nine essential amino acids, adding tofu to your recipes is an excellent way to boost the nutritional value of a meal.
There are several different types of tofu, ranging from soft to extra-firm, and various ways to prepare it. Use soft or silken tofu in dessert recipes like this Citrus Pound Cake, or fry it into a savory meal and make this Sesame Noodles with Tofu and Almond Sauce. Whether you're craving vegetarian pot pie or tacos, tofu is an excellent plant based meat substitute.
Recipe to Try: Hemp Burgers
Longing for a great burger recipe sans the meat? These Hemp Burgers will help make all of your BBQ dreams come true and more. Made with a mixture of firm tofu and hemp, it's a winning combo that can be used to create a delicious veggie burger patty.
Or, roll the batter into a meatless meatball and add it to your next spaghetti dish. Prepped and cooked in under an hour, hulled hemp seeds and nutritional yeast are added to this recipe to boost the flavor and nutrients.
Setian, also known as "wheat meat," is a plant-based meat substitute made from wheat gluten. With a similar texture to that of meat, it can be transformed into vegan burger patties, strips or ground. Seitan is relatively easy to cook and works great on the grill, allowing you to easily create delicious summer recipes like vegan kebabs.
When enjoyed plain, seitan has an earthy flavor similar to bland chicken or a portobello mushroom. However, it can transform into the perfect meat swap when well seasoned—especially in recipes that usually use chicken. When cooking with seitan, it's important to remember that while this meat substitute is vegan, it is not gluten free and should not be eaten by those with a gluten sensitivity or allergy.
Recipe to Try: Basic Seitan
If you're searching for a basic plant-based meat recipe that can be used in several different ways, then this Basic Seitan recipe is sure to become a weekly staple. Versatile and delicious, seitan can be sliced, pan-fried, deep-fried, sauteed and more! Made with our Vital Wheat Gluten and Nutritional Yeast, it's the perfect all-purpose vegan protein.
Lentils are a star ingredient in vegetarian and vegan diets due to their incredible versatility. Quickly cooked and seasoned, lentils can be added to Mexican, Italian and Asian dishes capturing the flavors excellently. When using lentils as a meat substitute, most individuals choose to swap them for ground beef.
When cooked, lentils crumble much like ground beef does, and whatever you would commonly use ground beef for, you can surely sub lentils in. Sloppy joes, taco filling, meatballs and shepherd's pie—the many ways you can cook with lentils are endless! Find lentils in the dry goods section of your grocery store, or buy them in bulk. They're sure to become a weekly staple.
Recipe to Try: Vegan Caviar
Transitioning to a plant-based diet and afraid of giving up your favorite foods like caviar? We mean it when we say there is a vegan version of just about everything—including popular seafood dishes. Create plant-based caviar that will curb all of your cravings and more, and whip up this Vegan Caviar recipe. Made with our Petite French Green Lentils, it's a recipe that can be prepped and cooked in under 30 minutes. Rich in protein and sure to please, just one batch of this caviar will make up to 40 show-stopping appetizers!
The small size, reasonable price, and endless health benefits of black beans make them one of the easiest plant food swaps to make. Use them in everything from sloppy joes to pasta sauce. They're a great way to add a boost of protein to your meal without meat. Black beans can be purchased in both canned and dried varieties. While canned black beans are an easy way to make a quick meal, dried black beans require preparation, and time should be set aside for proper soaking.
Recipe to Try: Easy Gluten Free Black Bean Burgers
With summertime in full swing, you'll want to have a variety of plant based burger options to grill up on the weekends. These Black Bean Burgers are not only easy to make, but they're incredibly delicious. In fact, they're so good that even individuals who aren't plant-based will enjoy eating them—which means you might want to make some extra. An easy recipe to follow along with, these vegan alternative burgers can be made with several different ingredients. Don't have quinoa on hand? Simply swap in oatmeal, regular rolled oats or quick-cooking oats if needed. Like traditional burgers, we recommend loading these vegan alternative patties up with your favorite toppings like pickles, tomatoes, lettuce and more!
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, make for an excellent meat substitute for vegans and deliver a boost of protein, texture and flavor to any dish. They're both a starch and a protein and a great source of fiber, boasting a lower glycemic index than other starch-based vegetables like potatoes. Available in both dry and canned varieties, purchasing the canned option will undoubtedly save you cooking time. Chickpeas can be worked into recipes ranging from Chana Masala to Gluten Free Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff.
Recipe to Try: Smoky Eggplant Ravioli in a Creamy Garlic Cashew Sauce
Who doesn't love a big plate of ravioli? The great thing about homemade ravioli is that you can choose to stuff it with whatever you'd like!
For a rich, creamy and vegan meal that will surpass popular meat-based versions by tenfold, make this Smoky Eggplant Ravioli in a Creamy Garlic Cashew Sauce. Packed with a mixture of roasted eggplant, chickpeas, spices and walnuts, the finished ravioli are cloaked in a creamy sauce made of cashews and miso. The perfect centerpiece for your next vegan feast, its looks are as impressive as the taste!
Transitioning to a new diet isn't easy. We're proud of you for taking a step towards better health and choosing foods that fit your health and lifestyle needs. If beginning a plant-based diet has you thinking about how much you will miss all your favorite foods, we hope this article has helped you realize otherwise.
Going vegan doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the dishes you love most. Instead, nearly everything you used to eat can be made with plant-based ingredients, even primarily meat-based dishes like burgers and meatballs! With a bit of effort, creativity and the tips and recipes listed above, you can create mouthwatering vegan versions of dishes you've missed. And, pretty soon, you won't miss animal products at all!
Know of a great meat substitute for vegans that we didn't mention? We'd love to hear more about the vegan meat alternatives you used when transitioning to a plant-based diet. Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments below. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, have a healthy and happy plant-based day!