I’m a picky eater, and I’ve been vegan for 13 years now. Over those 13 years, I’ve slowly expanded my horizon quite a bit. But I remember exactly what it felt like at first: I was clinging to my veggie burgers and pasta tightly!
In this post, I’m going to share 10 tips on how to go vegan for picky eaters. These are tips that will allow you to go vegan in a way that won’t overwhelm you! Some of the tips will also help you gradually expand to eating more vegetables and stuff (at your own pace, if you want).
Then I’ll also share 10 specific vegan meal ideas that many picky eaters like. The list includes things like pancakes, corn on the cob, and other childhood comforts—along with tips on how to make them vegan or find them in stores!
Let’s get into the tips:
1. Make a List of Plant Foods You Already Like.
We’re going to start by brainstorming foods for your vegan grocery list. The first step is just identifying vegan foods you already know and love. So, take out a piece of paper, and write down answers to these questions:
• What grains and starches do you like? Do you like pasta, cereal, rice, noodles, corn, or potatoes (mashed, hash browns, baked potatoes, fries, etc)? Make a list of your favorites, check which ones are vegan, and add them to your grocery list.
• Do you like any fruits? All fruit is vegan. That means apples, bananas, oranges, pears, peaches, grapes—they’re all fair game. Add your faves to the list.
• Do you like any nuts or seeds? Nuts and seeds are vegan. That means peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pistachios, almonds, pecans, walnuts—they’re all on the menu. Add your faves to the list.
• What about beans? Do you like baked beans? How about refried beans? (There are vegan versions of both.) Do you like chickpeas, lentils, or black beans? Bean burritos?
• What about vegetables? Any at all? That means carrots, peas, corn, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, brussel sprouts, collard greens, and more.
It’s okay if your list is still small at this point. We’ve got more brainstorming questions coming up!
2. Browse Lists of “Accidentally Vegan” Products.
Did you know that Nutter Butters and OREOS are vegan? Yep. The same goes for Ritz Crackers and Twizzlers. And did you know, Act II “Butter Lover’s” microwave popcorn is actually vegan?
These are what you call “accidentally vegan” foods.
Many of these famous examples of “accidentally vegan” foods are not very healthy. So if you’re going vegan for the health benefits, be sensible with this section! Just because something is “vegan” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
But here are some lists you may want to peruse. See what foods jump out at you: “Oh, I like those!” And if they fit with your health goals, then add them to your grocery list!
- PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan Food and Snack List”
- Buzzfeed’s “41 Foods You Won’t Believe Are Actually Vegan”
- Plant-Based News’ list of Accidentally Vegan Foods
- VegNews’ “25 Accidentally Vegan Snacks You’ll Find at Virtually Any Convenience Store.”
- Spoon University’s “30 Foods You Probably Didn’t Know Were Vegan”
- And for those of you in England: Read Vegan Food and Living‘s guide here.
3. Look Up How to “Veganize” Your Favorite Meals.
You can make anything vegan. Anything.
Some things are just very easy to “veganize,” and others are a bit harder. Sometimes, it’s as easy as swapping in soy milk for the cow’s milk. Other times, you need to replace eggs for baking—that can be done, too, but it’s a bit more complicated.
I remember when I first went vegan, I had a lot of fun making my first vegan pizza. And then my first vegan cake. (That first cake was a disaster. But now I make them flawlessly. Hint: This is the vegan chocolate cake recipe to go to.)
But it’s not junk food that you can make vegan. Here are a sample of recipes online, just to show you how many things can be made vegan:
- Vegan mac and cheese
- Vegan mashed potatoes
- Vegan egg salad sandwich
- Vegan cheesy scalloped potatoes
- Vegan lasagna
- Vegan naan
- Vegan ravioli
- Vegan matzo ball soup (for my Jewish vegans out there)
So make a list of your favorite meals. Then just type “vegan _________” into Google. You will find recipes and/or pre-packaged versions you can buy!
4. Try Some Mock Meats and Plant-Based Alternatives.
In the vegan community, mock meats sometimes get flack for being processed and not as healthy as whole foods. But if you’re a picky eater, mock meats can be a saving grace as you transition.
Many vegan burgers and other vegan meats are very delicious and very realistic. They can be an easy swap into the meals you already know and love.
Now, of course, you won’t be getting all the health benefits of switching to a whole-food diet if you’re eating vegan hot dogs all day…
But in most cases, vegan mock meats are at least a small improvement over real meat health-wise. For example, they don’t contain as much saturated fat or cholesterol as real meat. (And of course, you’re not killing animals when you eat vegan hot dogs, either!)
Here are my top recommendations for vegan mock meats and the like:
• Look for anything by Field Roast. This brand is awesome at what they do. The best-tasting vegan meat I’ve had. The “apple sage” sausages are especially good.
• Try Beyond Burgers. These are known to be some of the most realistic vegan burgers. I love them.
• Be willing to try a few plant-based milks. I have a friend who hates almond milk but loves soy milk. For me personally, I like all of them except coconut milk (and rice milk is only so-so). There’s oat milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, flax milk, and more.
• Really try to get into eating nutritional yeast. It may seem weird at first, but I personally love it so much—on popcorn, in pasta, on salads, etc. It’s a cheesy, nutty seasoning that you can make sauces out of, and it’s really healthy, too.
5. Listen to This Audiobook.
For me, one of the biggest ways to convince myself to eat more vegetables is by learning about how healthy they are.
If you start telling me about all the evidence showing that kale can reverse cancer or something like that… I’m going to start getting excited about eating it! (Even though I don’t really like kale.)
This is why I highly recommend the book How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger (Amazon link). It’s essentially a 576-page sales pitch about how vegetables will solve all your problems and make you immortal.
Specifically, I recommend the audiobook. I like listening to a few minutes every day—just to remind myself of all the health benefits I’m getting when I eat veggies, fruits, beans, whole grains, and the rest. It provides all the motivation I need.
Just be sure to listen to the audio sample before getting the audiobook.
The audiobook is narrated by Dr. Greger himself, and his style can be “too much” for some people. (I personally love his enthusiasm, but some people find it annoying. So go listen to the sample on the Amazon page first!)
6. Try Some Smoothies.
This is especially a tip for people who are picky about eating vegetables. One of the big ways I increased my vegetable consumption was by making green smoothies.
You can put huge amounts of spinach into a smoothie, along with fruit and other flavors (like peanut butter), and you won’t even taste the spinach.
Start with a small amount of veggies (or none), mostly just blending up fruit you already like. Then slowly increase the amount of veggies over time.
If you’ve never made a smoothie before, here’s a simple formula to work from: Banana + plant-based milk + one more ingredient for flavor. Now let’s break that down:
1. Usually, you’ll want to include bananas for the creamy texture (unless you don’t like bananas). Personally, I like frozen bananas in my smoothies—it’s more like soft-serve ice cream or a milkshake. (You peel the bananas before freezing them!)
2. Plant-based milk (like soy milk or almond milk) will give a creamier texture than water. But water is fine to use if you prefer. You’ll probably only need 1 cup or less, but it depends on what else you add and the power of your blender.
3. Something else for flavor. I like adding peanut butter. Cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and cinnamon are good choices, too. Or go for fruity: Add some berries. My go-to is frozen strawberries. (Blackberries and raspberries have seeds that can be a little annoying in smoothies.)
You can find vegan smoothie recipes on Google, too. But there’s lots of experimentation and fine-tuning you can also do based on your personal preferences!
7. Find Vegan Sauces You Like—And Slather Them on Everything.
Similar to how fruit can mask the taste of veggies in a smoothie, a good sauce can be slathered on veggies and easily make them taste good.
It could be something really simple: Do you like BBQ sauce? There are a bunch of vegan BBQ sauce brands (listed here). I actually have a vegan friend who slathers Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce on all his veggies.
There are other pre-made sauces at most grocery stores, too. One that I like is “General Tso’s” sauce. You might know it from Chinese restaurants. General Tso’s sauce is usually vegan—just be sure to check it doesn’t contain fish sauce.
Another thing you can do is to actually blend up additional veggies in your sauces. This works especially well with red pasta sauce (marinara). You can eat a lot more veggies this way and not even taste them.
That’s a great way to trick kids into eating more veggies with their pasta, by the way.
One more idea: I mentioned nutritional yeast above. There are so many “vegan cheesy sauce” recipes you can make from nutritional yeast. Some are really healthy and simple, too. Find one you like, and it could potentially make any vegetables tasty.
8. Sign Up for Nutriciously’s Free Vegan Transition Course.
Nutriciously is one of my favorite vegan blogs. They have a number of e-books and free courses that are great for getting started on a plant-based diet.
I’d highly recommend their free vegan transition email course. You can sign up in 10 seconds now, and then you’ll get more high-quality free guidance sent out to you over the next 10 days.
The course includes specific meal plans along with more general advice, and it busts some of the most common myths about veganism.
If you’re going vegan for weight loss, you could also check out Nutriciously’s free weight-loss challenge. Along with some vegan basics, they also teach you about calorie density, too, so you can make sure you lose weight. Learn more about their healthy weight loss challenge here.
9. Try Just One New Food at a Time.
Here’s something I’ve learned about myself as a picky eater: I can usually get myself to try a meal that has just one new food in it. But if you give me a meal that’s completely new ingredients, I’ll get overwhelmed.
It’s almost like I need a foundation of familiarity in my meals. If 80 to 90% of my plate is filled with food I know and love, then I can take a few bites of another food with the last 10 to 20%.
So if I wanted to try a new vegetable at this point, I’d start by picking a meal I love to go with it. Maybe I’d choose a comfort food like vegan mac and cheese or mashed potatoes. Then I’d take a bite that includes some of the new vegetable along with the comfort food.
For me, that’s the “safest,” comfiest way to introduce a new food. Before ever eating a full mouthful of the new food by itself, I’d rather eat it together with mashed potatoes for several meals first!
10. Go for Multiple Exposures Before Giving Up.
Here’s something else I’ve learned about myself: Usually when I try a new food, I can tolerate it… But that still doesn’t make me comfy with it. Not right away!
Usually, I don’t go from “0 to 100” with new foods. Even after I tried the food and everything went okay… I’d still feel more comfortable going back to foods I know well and love. So it’s going to take effort to get multiple exposures to that new food.
If you want to get comfortable with new foods, don’t have the attitude of, “Okay, I tried it, now I never have to eat it again!”
Instead, have an attitude of, “I’m going to eat a little bit of this food regularly until I hopefully grow fond of it and start enjoying it!”
I remember with avocado, at first I just tolerated it. But then one day at a restaurant, I had it in a “vegan chicken” burger, along with some vegan cheese. And in that context, it just made sense to me. I was like, “Oh, this avocado makes it better!”
And I was hooked on avocado after that.
Here’s the takeaway: You have to give yourself enough time and exposures to have that moment where it clicks and you actually start liking the new food, not just tolerating it.
10 Vegan Meal Ideas for Picky Eaters
This section is a bit difficult to make because there are different kinds of picky eaters. Some picky eaters are grossed out by beans, most fruits, and more—others are just wary of specific vegetables.
Still, these are 10 vegan meals and snacks that many picky eaters will enjoy. They are classic dishes eaten widely in the West today. In many cases, they may remind you of your childhood. Many of them are comfort foods.
If you like some of these, add them to your list!
1. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.
Probably the most classic lunch or snack of all time: PB & J.
Most peanut butter is vegan, most jelly is vegan, and a fair amount of bread is vegan, too. So this one is easy to make vegan.
If you want a healthier version, then be sure to pick whole-wheat bread, get a natural peanut butter (some contain only peanuts!), and get a jelly that doesn’t have any added processed sugar.
2. Vegan Mac and Cheese.
I’ve mentioned vegan mac and cheese several times in this post because it’s such an iconic comfort food. There are a million ways to make vegan mac and cheese:
Along with vegan mac and cheese recipes online, you can also find some pre-packaged vegan mac and cheese products in stores. And there’s also the option of just mixing some vegan shredded cheese into a hot pot of pasta, too. That works, too!
3. Mashed Potatoes.
Mashed potatoes are another iconic comfort food, and they’re easy to make vegan. Once again, you have several options for how to make this dish vegan:
• Instant mashed potato mixes are usually vegan, so just add plant-milk and maybe some oil or vegan butter (optional) in that case.
• Homemade vegan mashed potatoes are usually more delicious yet. Aside from the boiled and mashed potatoes themselves, you’ll want to add some plant-milk and, again, maybe some kind of oil or vegan butter (optional).
Spaghetti and most other pasta products are usually vegan—only some contain eggs.
When it comes to spaghetti sauces, there are plenty of vegan options. Look for “marinara,” tomato and basil,” or “traditional.” Just check the ingredients list to make sure it doesn’t say “CONTAINS MILK” (from cheese) or have any meat listed.
You can also mix in some vegan mock meats, like pieces of Beyond Burger, if you miss the meaty taste and the extra protein.
5. Corn on the Cob.
Corn on the cob is one of my personal favorites from childhood. Such a simple, delicious meal.
If you like buttering your corn on the cob, just find some vegan butter from the store. Earth Balance is a popular brand. I also have another post that showcases 6 different vegan butter options without palm oil. (Palm oil is known for being environmentally unsustainable.)
6. Baked Fries.
Most people like french fries. And indeed, fries are usually vegan. But I want to recommend baking your own fries at home.
Baked fries can provide a lot of the same great taste as deep fried ones, with a lot better health profile. This video gives a good, quick introduction on how to make them:
7. Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich.
Another classic sandwich option. Peanut and banana just go together so well. And again, al of these ingredients are easy to find vegan.
Another version of this snack: Make toast, and then just smear the peanut butter on that, and top it with chunks of banana. No need for a top slice.
8. Watermelon Slices.
One of the simplest snacks in the book. Just slice up some watermelon. One ingredient. Simple. Vegan. Refreshing.
I remember my dad would make pancakes for us all the time when I was a kid. (And I would use way too much pancake syrup!)
Well, pancakes are easy to make vegan. In fact, there are some common pancake mixes you can buy in the store that are already vegan. (Some versions of Bisquick are vegan—just don’t add eggs!)
It’s also easy to find vegan pancake recipes online. And there are endless variations you can make, if you feel like getting more creative:
- Super Simple Vegan Pancakes
- Vegan Banana Pancakes
- Vegan Blueberry Pancakes
- 14 Vegan Pancakes That Will Change Your Outlook on Life
10. Hash Browns.
Hash browns are another comfy potato product that is easy to make vegan. You can also find store-bought hash browns that are vegan. Most of the ones you find in the freezer section will be.
In fact, there is even a version of frozen Ore Ida hash browns that are oil-free and fit the somewhat strict McDougall Diet (“starch-based” vegan).
One More Recommendation for Your Vegan Journey
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