15 Easy Vegan Comfort Food Swaps to Help You Make the Switch
By Bianca + Michael Alexander
Most of us sincerely want to eat healthier and adopt a plant-based diet, but the idea of anything coming between us and our favorite meat, cheese – or worse, our favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream – can make us want to head straight for McDonald’s. Chewing, tasting and swallowing can be such a powerful physiological experience, it’s easy to get attached to how good it can make us feel. This is especially true for comfort foods – those greasy, fatty, and sweet treats we turn to when we’re emotionally distressed or in need of instant gratification. When we’re looking for comfort, saving animals, the planet or even ourselves can feel secondary to getting a cheese, sugar or burger fix.
Fortunately, the world is now in the midst of a vegan renaissance which has increased consumer demand for a wider variety of satisfying plant-based foods. In fact, the number of people in the U.S. who identify as vegan has increased a whopping 600% in the past three years. And dozens of innovative food brands are swiftly stepping in to meet the growing need for delicious plant-based cuisine.
But one question remains: which swaps will satisfy your comfort food cravings the best? As long-time vegan comfort food junkies (15 years and counting!), we’ve tried and taste-tested some of the best alternative brands and recipes out there (again and again). Here are some of our favorites:
Mac ‘N Cheese. Nothings says comfort food more than a hot plate of macaroni and cheese. Make it vegan with Michael’s easy recipe made from cashew cheese and gluten-free macaroni, or try a pre-packaged version, like Daiya’s Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac, made with brown rice pasta and velvety Daiya cheese sauce.
Burgers. Veggie burgers are so much fun and easy to eat, especially with all the trimmings, and there’s nothing more satisfying. You can find yummy ones at many fast food restaurants these days, including Burger King. Even Mickey D’s has even started selling them in select locations in Europe.
Cooking at home? For a quick fix, go ahead and try popular brands like Amy’s Veggie Burger, Whole Foods Vegan Burger and Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burger, which are okay. But if you’re looking for the juiciest, tastiest soy and gluten-free version, pick up a couple No Bull Burger gourmet patties in Sun Dried Tomato & Spinach or Mama Mia Spicy Italian. They’re great on a bun or alone on the grill with a little BBQ sauce. Or, go whole hog and sink your teeth into Beyond Meat’s Beast Burger or the hot new Beyond Meat Beyond Burger (below), which looks, cooks, tastes and satisfies so much like the real thing, it’s sold in the meat section!
Hot Dogs. No need to nosh on ground up mystery meat just to get your hot dog fix. For the perfect color, texture and flavor so good it’ll fool your half-smoke eating friends, grill up a package of Tofurky Italian Sausage. For a gluten-free dish, try Pups and pour on the toppings. Mustard, relish, chopped onions and sauerkraut are vegan and gluten-free! You can even find plenty of gluten-free bun options – check out a few of our favorite vegan meat, buns and trimmings by watching our Vegan Barbecue episode, or watch this episode on Yummy Vegan Meat Swaps.
French Fries. If you’re in the mood to chew on something salty, chewy and crispy, a hot plate of fries will do the trick. They’re a great vegan option, as long as they’re not fried in animal fat. These days, most fast food restaurants have made the switch to vegetable oil, but McDonald’s still fries in beef fat, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. We love sweet potato fries, which are lighter on the stomach and chock full of iron. At home, fry them in coconut or olive oil. Add a little sea salt, a hint of cinnamon, and don’t forget the ketchup – it’s vegan and gluten-free.
Pizza. Bring pizza night back in full force by making your own with this recipe made from cauliflower crust, go raw with this cancer-fighting pesto recipe, or opt for yummy gourmet pre-packaged options in flavor combinations like pesto, spinach and roasted vegetable from Amy’s, which offers gluten-free pies. You can also try Daiya brand if you like their cheeze (Michael loves it!). Both are sold in the frozen food section, so pick up a couple and pop them in the oven for a fun game, sports or movie night.
Cheese. As a baby growing up in foodie-haven San Francisco, Michael was fed warm Brie, not breast milk. Needless to say, cheese was the hardest thing to give up we detoxed our way to vegan. (Click here to learn why casein – animal protein found in meat and dairy – is so addictive). Once we found great-tasting alternatives like Field Roast’s spicy Chao cheese, Daiya’s Provolone, Cheddar, American and Swiss, Treeline’s savory raw fermented cheese, and Dill & Chive Cream Cheese from artisanal brand Kite Hill (who also makes a yummy yogurt), there was no turning back. For a tasty twist on a grilled cheese, watch Michael make his favorite here with Daiya cheddar, the best for melty sandos, lasagna and quesadillas.
Chips. When it comes to chips, it’s all about the crisp, the salt and the flavor. Instead of the usual animal-fatty fried treats, go for something healthier: kale chips. This crowd-pleasing raw/vegan recipe features one of the most nutritional greens you can possibly find in the produce section. In addition to dietary fiber and protein, they’re packed with calcium, lutein, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K. When “fried” in the dehydrator and topped with our special mouth-watering jalapeño “cheeze” recipe, these chips are the bomb! Warning: they go fast, so be sure to make a double batch.
Soup. Most soups are made with heavy cream for a smoother texture, but that doesn’t mean you have to choose miso or plain old boring veggie broth to be plant-based. Instead, stock up on great soups from Amy’s Kitchen and Annie’s Naturals, in flavors like Butternut Squash, Black Bean, Lentil, Thick Tomato, Vegetable or Split Pea Soup. If you like your soup fresh made, try these thick and creamy Potato Leek Soup, Raw Vegan Chili, and immunity-boosting Carrot Ginger Soup recipes. Pair them with a grilled cheeze sando, and you’re in comfort food heaven.
Mexican Food. If you like your food with a latin flavor, you know most traditional Mexican cuisine is full of milk, cheese, eggs and sour cream. For tasty plant-based recipes that’ll make you swear you’re South of the border (yes, quesadillas and even flan) watch our Vegan Mexican Fiesta episode, where we whipped up this sweet potato and black bean quesadilla on a spinach tortilla, filled with gooey melted cheeze.
Pancakes. Nothing beats waking up on a Saturday morning to fresh-made pancakes, but will they taste good without butter, milk and eggs? The answer is yes! For the best vegan, gluten-free pancake mix, start with a bag of Bob’s Red Mill, then swap out butter and eggs for this strawberry banana pancakes recipe made with creamy coconut oil and ground flaxseed. They’re fluffy, sweet, and chewy, just how they’re meant to be. Fry a half dozen up on the griddle, top them with your favorite fresh fruit and organic maple syrup, and stay in bed for the rest of the day.
Cookies. It’s hard to imagine life without cookies, and going vegan doesn’t mean you have to. For a snack-worthy store-bought version, try Uncle Eddie’s, or our favorite and the #1 consumer choice, Alternative Baking (peanut butter flavor is our favorite, made with chopped peanuts!). If you prefer baking your own, we recommend you whip up a batch of our best chocolate chip cookie recipe. It tastes twice as good as any store bought brand, and you can make your friends happy by baking an extra dozen.
Ice Cream. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream – as long as it’s not made with cow’s milk. After all, that’s for baby cows, right? How about leaving the cow’s milk for the calves and avoid the hormones, antibiotics, and inflammation-inducing mucus while you’re at it. They’re dozens of vegan ice cream brands on the market, and they’re not all made with soy. Many are made from almond, rice and cashew milk, like Larry+ Lunas and So Delicious. Turn it into a vegan milk shake or fudge sundae, topped with whipped cream and dark chocolate sauce, and you’ve got dessert. Want more? Combine the best of both worlds and indulge in this home-made ice cream cookie sandwich recipe. Once you’ve tasted these, you’ll never think twice about going vegan again.
Brownies. For a warm and gooey chocolate fix, pick up a box of Amy’s Kitchen brownies, or make your own from black beans and spelt flower like we did in this recipe. For a no-bake version that you can whip up in 20 minutes with a food processor, watch Michael’s raw brownie recipe. It’s perfect for making bliss balls!
Cakes and Pies. Celebrate your special occasions with a homemade cake or pie with a few key replacements: flax seed, ripe bananas or apple sauce for eggs, swap cow’s milk with soy, cashew, almond or rice milk, switch diary cream with fresh coconut cream, and swap butter with earth balance or coconut oil. If you also want to go gluten-free, try a cake mix by Bob’s Red Mill (see above in the pancake recipe), Namaste Foods or make your own with this Matcha Green Tea Cake Recipe with Azuki Frosting.
Candy. For your candy fix, skip the milk chocolate that’s in most candy bars and go for a dairy-free version, like Amy’s Creamy Candy, butter-free Coconut Caramels or go dark instead with organic, fair trade Equal Exchange Fair Trade Chocolate.
With the vegan market growing larger and stronger each year, consider this list just the tip of the iceberg for yummy comfort foods you can enjoy year round. More and more are on their way to a grocery store near you, so happy plant-based noshing!