How to (More Than) Survive as a Vegan

by Karen Gilman | Follow on Twitter

Forget the veggie dogs and faux meat, I’m talking about plant-based “real food” protein-packed meals.

WHETHER IT’S THE RISING COST OF FOOD squeezing your budget or a personal journey that led you to join the Meatless Monday bandwagon, eating more plant-based protein is good for your body and easy on the wallet.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail got me thinking about how people can give up meat and embrace a more plant-based diet. The article described the enormous growth of the market for meat alternatives – faux meats like veggie dogs, ground soy and textured vegetable protein – that have been found wanting where taste is concerned. Food companies, however, have been finding ways to make these products downright appetizing, gaining acceptance from meat eaters and fueling the growth of the global market to a projected US$5 billion by 2020 from US$3.9 billion in 2014.

Less meat means a reduced risk for heart disease, lower cholesterol and higher fibre intake, to name a few of the benefits. The options for cooking with plant-based alternatives are endless.

By “plant-based,” I don’t mean just leafy greens but refer to beans and legumes like lentils or peas. How about curry chickpeas instead of chicken curry? Or meatballs made from brown rice and mushrooms? Faux meats are OK once in a while but they are highly processed.

Vegetarian cooking does require more labour than cooking with meat, but once you get into the habit you’ll love it! A well-stocked pantry is a huge asset for the budding vegetarian chef.

“Faux meats are OK once in a while but they are highly processed.” <– Tweet this.

For me, ditching meat and chicken more than 30 years ago had less to do with a concern for animal welfare and more with a distaste for biting into bone or chewing on a piece of fat. It really grossed me out. I eventually gave up chicken too when the thought of stripping meat from bone began to turn my stomach.

For many years, veggie dogs and veggie burgers were a regular part of my diet, but food-label inspections revealed that the ingredient lists for these products was often longer than those for junk food, inspiring me to focus on preparing and eating “real food”.

Today, my mission, as a nutritionist, is to encourage others to do the same.

Here are 4 quick and easy ways to survive as a vegan and add more plant-based protein into your meals:

  1. Curries – use chickpeas instead of chicken.
  2. Chili – use a variety of beans instead of beans and ground beef. Black, pinto or red kidney beans are all great chili options. If you are looking for a ‘meaty’ texture, add brown or green lentils or bulghur.
  3. Soup – vegetable-based broth with any bean or lentil makes a hearty meat alternative.
  4. Burgers – mushrooms, brown rice or quinoa are great bases for vegetarian burgers.

Much of the world survives on plant protein. When you think of protein you usually think of animal foods like beef, chicken, milk and cheese but plant foods like soybeans, sunflower seeds, almonds and even rice can provide protein. You will survive very well if you eliminate animal protein a few times a week so join the Meatless Monday movement.

Must-Have Pantry Stock Items:

  1. Canned or dried chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, lentils
  2. Nuts and nut butters like almond or cashew
  3. Seeds and seed butters like pumpkin or sunflower
  4. Grains/seeds – quinoa, chia, hemp

If you keep your pantry stocked with these plant-based ingredients you’ll never worry about not being about to get enough protein in your diet or run out of fun meal-time recipes. Here’s one of my favorites…

The Black Bean Boss Burger


  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 medium sized shallot
  • 1 ½ cups black beans
  • 1/3 cup spelt flour
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Coconut oil for sauteing

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Toast sunflower seeds and let cool.
  2. Process the sunflower seeds in a food processor until coarsely ground.
  3. Add the shallot, black beans, flour, soy sauce, paprika and salt and pepper.
  4. Process until well combined but with some texture.
  5. Shape into 4 patties. Heat oil in pan. Cook until nicely browned and warmed through.
blackbean burgers

The Black Bean Boss Burger

About the Author
Karen Gilman

Karen Gilman is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in plant-based eating with a focus on nutrition for teenage girls. She is the founder of and is passionate about helping others make the transition to a diet packed with grains, beans and leafy greens. Karen creates recipes, runs cooking workshops and nutrition seminars and blogs about food. She believes a nutritious diet can be easy and, equally important, delicious. Check out her support group ‘Help, My Daughter’s Gone Vegetarian’ at and sign up to receive a free copy of her e-book Raising Vegetarian Girls.