Going vegan seems to be the hottest new trend in health and diets out there. Recently, my husband and I watched the Netflix documentary, “What The Health.” While I do feel that some of the documentary was a little dramatized, there were definitely some great takeaway points and facts that I didn’t know prior to watching. I won’t go into detail, but you should check it out yourself, whether you decide to take the vegan plunge or not!
After watching, we were a little disturbed with some of the foods we consumed. There are definitely some vivid, lasting images in my mind that I can never unsee. As a physical therapist, promoting health and wellness is part of my role in life, so this all seemed like something I should definitely listen to and try. Seeing how dairy and eggs alone can lead to a higher risk of disease was enough to make me want to try switching to a vegan diet.
Over the last few years, I have come to realize firsthand the part that nutrition plays in my health. Two years ago, for about 3-4 months, I kept a food diary and completed an “elimination diet.” To break this down – I eliminated all major allergens and food intolerances that would be questionable (dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, etc.) and then reintroduced one thing (dairy), ate a lot of it one day, and then tracked how my body reacted the next 3 days. Then I would introduce the next thing. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and it definitely requires self-discipline. It was very much worth it though. Now I can “pick my battles” when it comes to food based on if I want to feel bloated that day, or if I want my allergies to act up, etc. It’s pretty interesting. Shoot me a message if you’re interested even more 😉
With this history of eliminating many of these foods from my diet, I felt like I already had an upper hand on the whole “vegan” thing. I knew there were decent dairy and egg-free pizzas, cheeses, milks, yogurts, etc. I just had never gone without meat before – Ah!
The even trickier part to starting this is how limited we are with groceries in Japan. Neither of us can read Japanese, we can hardly speak the bare minimum conversationally, so we don’t know much of what we can buy at the grocery store besides your fresh items. Of course, we have the grocery store on the naval base, but again, it is a limited selection since only certain things are shipped from the US.
Scott and I agreed that we would try, but we also agreed to not give up hope if we couldn’t make it work in Japan. We will be in San Diego, CA in just about 2 months and we know it will be much easier to adapt to a vegan lifestyle there.
Oh and did I mention – in Japan, they don’t have ovens in their homes!? Yeah, so we can only use the stovetop and our microwave. We could buy a toaster oven and/or a crockpot – BUT we’re also in a predicament here. You see, all of my 1 bedroom apartment belongings (food processor, crockpot, George Forman grill) are all back in MD… so we obviously don’t want to buy too much more and have duplicates of items that we already have (and will be reunited with soon).
So to get started, we did a lot of searching online. From Pinterest to Instagram to random other websites. I have my basic recipes, but we wouldn’t to make sure we didn’t get bored. I’ll post a few links below that helped us out, specifically the ones that were easy and tasty 🙂
Our general grocery list looks like this:
- Fruit that is on sale (blueberries, pineapple..)
- Baby spinach
- Potatoes (regular or sweet depending on what is accessible)
- Green and Red Peppers
- Baby Carrots
- Mushrooms (I know there are different kinds but we’re not that smart yet)
- Dried fruit (raisins, mangos..)
- Nutritional Yeast
- Fortified Cereals (Cheerios)
- Ground Flax seed
- Frozen fruits and veggies (whatever is on sale)
- Granola bars (whatever we can find that is Vegan and somewhat healthy)
- Almond milk (usually unsweetened vanilla.. but chocolate is also delish)
- Tofu and/or some other “meatless meat” in the frozen section (hoping to eventually only rely on the frozen ones every once in awhile)
- Black Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Pretzel crisps (or other chips for dipping/snack)
- Spaghetti Sauce (to at least have around, even if you don’t use it right away)
- Seasonings (we already have a few, but basic sea salt, ground pepper, garlic salt, chili powder are helpful.. others too – but again, we are on a time constraint)
- Coconut Oil
- Nut butter (we already had almond butter and peanut butter)
- Vegetable broth
- Coconut Water
- Vegan Protein Powder (because we like to work out a good bit)
- Enjoy Life chocolate chips (very optional but we love chocolate so..)
Okay so that is a basic list for the two of us for about a week (maybe more, maybe less). Of course sometimes we have to run out and get something else, but that’s usually only one thing and it changes all the time!
So for breakfast, we generally eat cereal/granola and almond milk with some sort of fresh fruit. I will also make smoothies (fresh and frozen fruit with some flax seed, coconut water, and almond milk) occasionally, oatmeal, overnight oats, I’ve even made vegan pancakes pending what we have in the cupboard. And of course, I’ll have a cup of coffee usually. Right now we’ve been drinking ours black, but I know there are almond, soy, and coconut milk creamers back in the US.. just none available to us here!
When you think about not eating meat, the first thing you probably think about is a protein deficiency. There are plenty of articles that go into depth with this – but what I didn’t think about were other deficiencies, the main one being Vitamin B12. Okay, so you could buy a supplement (I love gummy vitamins, not gonna lie). BUT you can actually get B12 in Fortified cereals (Cheerios, for example) and nutritional yeast! This was something I definitely didn’t know until I did some research.
Easy Lunch and/or Dinner meals:
Smoothie Bowls (AKA make a smoothie and sprinkle whatever toppings you want on top)
– Usually my smoothies consist of banana, frozen fruit, flax, coconut water, almond milk. I’m kind of plain and stick to that often, but feel free to make your own and switch it up! I’ve made green smoothies plenty of times with kale, spinach, and/or avocado!
– Toppings may be: granola, sliced almonds, coconut flakes, flax seed, chia seed, other fresh fruit.
Be creative with salads because they can get old quick!
Usually our salads include some sort of darker leaf (spinach), sometimes we mix other types of lettuce in (romaine, arugula). Toppings include things like: dried fruit (craisins), almond slices, tomatoes, onions, peppers, fresh fruit (strawberries), avocado, cucumbers, zucchini, garbanzo beans, vegan cheese … really whatever you have and seems to go together!
Quinoa bowl – The one below is a Spinach Quinoa “Risotto” that was sooo good. See the recipe here!
Poke Bowl – This is just your basic “sushi bowl” … kind of. Use white or brown rice – whatever you prefer – and throw some raw veggies on top! We cut up some carrots, avocado, cucumber, and then threw some soy sauce on there! You can definitely top it with tons of others, it was just what we had at the time! Super easy!
Rice and Veggies – Simple cook your rice (or make it in bulk so you can use it for other ones above too) and then sautéed vegetables.. throw them together and voila! If you want to add a salsa or vegan cheese.. hot sauce..liquid smoke.. the options are endless!
Mexican bowl – Again, plop whatever rice and/or quinoa in a bowl. Throw in some salsa, black beans, if you want any seitan or tofu that is seasoned to taste, avocado, vegan cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions.. literally whatever!!
Tacos – For our tacos, we used seitan ground “beef” that we bought in the frozen center. We grabbed a taco seasoning packet and then made the “meat” according to the packet – super easy! We grabbed some tortillas, cut up some tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, vegan cheese, and added some salsa.. yum! You can also just make black bean tacos.. And I’m sure you could substitute the black beans for the seitan even!? Not sure, but it’s worth a try!!
Veggie Wraps –
You know all those veggies that are about to go bad? Well, we used leftover tortillas and all our leftover veggies, put them in a wrap together and put some salsa and vegan cheese on it. Or you can add hummus. Again, the options are endless and really depends on what you have! Super simple and tasty!! And helps us get rid of veggies that are about to go bad…
— This may be tricky, but as long as you get the sticky white rice, you should be good. You will need a bamboo wrap thing too (not sure what the fancy name is, just being real here). I didn’t do this one, my husband did. I’m a little more impatient so I think it was better for him to do 😉 Haha. We used this video to help us out!
So for this, I ended up boiling some regular potatoes first. I put them in the Tupperware containers and then poured the chili over top so that it gave a little “meal.” I based everything off of this recipe – but I’ll be honest, I really changed it and kind of just “winged it” (how I cook most of the time, let’s be real). I also really want to try making pumpkin chili one time… I had it once in the past from a co-worker and it was amazing!
Basic Spaghetti – Okay, this is for real the most simple. Grab a vegan spaghetti sauce and some noodles of your choice. What I ended up doing to add a little extra – I sautéed some spinach, onions, and green peppers together and then added them to the sauce and let it simmer a little. I threw in some chick peas then for a little extra protein! You can get creative with this, though! And if you want to make your own sauce – by all means, go for it!
Another easy pasta dish we tried (recipe below)…
Hummus and pretzel crisps/veggies. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been doing this foreverrrr anyways, haha.
Banana “Nice Cream” – There are so many varieties of this you can look up. There’s even a whole Instagram account dedicated to it! I do recommend a food processor, my blender had some issues with grinding up the frozen bananas and it was a little frustrating.
Oat balls – Amazing. I’m obsessed with both kinds. Peanut butter chocolate chip and almond butter with raisins. Note: I’ve had to change these both a little bit – I’m not sure if my proportions were off or what, but I usually end up with more dry ingredients…? Just as a heads up 😉
Complete Cookies (okay, we buy these). They aren’t too bad for you and they definitely help a sweet tooth! You may be able to find limited flavors some places, or you can order in bulk here.
I hope this gives you a good idea on how to eat vegan even with limited resources. Will it take time to learn – yes, definitely. But if you’re committed, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you!! You can do it! 🙂
Oh and if you’re in Kamakura, Japan, I highly recommend checking out Vegetus – an all vegan restaurant that we visited for a night out. It was delicious whether you’re vegan or not!! We found it on Happycow.net — which is an amazing restaurant that can help you find Vegan restaurants (or options) near you!
Good luck if you want to try it out! If not, you can still try the recipes 😉 You might be surprised!
(Follow me on Instagram – @jennstrack19 if you want to check my vegan progress!)