Two months ago my 10 year old daughter decided she wanted to be a vegetarian (if you’re interested in finding out how that all came about then check out my blogpost ‘What To Do When Your Daughter Tells You She Wants To Be A Vegetarian‘). To say it was a steep learning curve is an understatement. As someone who doesn’t like any kind of beans, cheese, or mushrooms it made my life as head chef of the house pretty darned tricky at times I can tell you. We tried out a lot of different vegetarian and vegan products in an attempt to find things she liked and I kept a record along the way, as I figured it could be useful for anyone going through the same thing as well as to help me remember what to buy for future veggie dinners.
The products below are just a few of the ones we tried and where possible I have included my opinion of them as well as my daughter’s.
Asda Plantbased Products
Asda launched their 48 product range of plantbased products back at the start of this year and I’ve got to say the selection is pretty impressive.
These are totally up my street; veg and potato wrapped in golden crumbs, I mean seriously what’s not to like? Well, my daughter found something. I served these up with chips and vegetables as a quick after school dinner and I was convinced I was onto a winner, but no she turned her nose up at them, ate them and then said she didn’t want them again. Oh well, more for me then. But now do you see what I’m dealing with here!?!?! Quick to cook, cheap, and tasty as, I can also confirm they go amazing in a sarnie with some ketchup and mayo. For me they’re a big thumbs up.
Duckless Spring Rolls
I’ve always been a bit confused by the vegan/vegetarian products that dress themselves up as meat. Sure this is called duckless, but did it even need to mention duck, could it not just have said vegan spring rolls, or meat free spring rolls? I guess it’s for those vegans/veggies who can’t morally stand the idea of eating meat, but boy do they still love the taste of it.
Again my daughter didn’t like these, not because of the duckless element, but more the fact they contained beansprouts, which she hates. She spent ages picking them all out and then lobbed it on my plate. Oh well, again who exactly is the winner here love?
It’s a shame there’s only 4 of them, although at £2.25 you can’t really argue with that. I really liked these and they were a great alternative to meat spring rolls, in fact I reckon if you served them up and didn’t tell people they honestly wouldn’t know they didn’t contain meat. Lovely dipped in sweet chilli sauce.
Meat-Free Chicken Bites
In theory these should be lovely, but my goodness even I couldn’t stomach them so there wasn’t much hope of anyone else liking them! I had this great idea that these would make the perfect substitute for meatballs – I could cook them in the oven as per the packet instructions and then whack them in a saucepan with a jar of pasta sauce and some spaghetti and boom another easy dinner done. If only life was that simple.
These so called ‘chicken bites’ were about as far removed from chicken as you could possibly get and even the pasta sauce didn’t disguise the fact that they are just plain gross. I couldn’t even begin to describe what they actually tasted like either… I guess bland and synthetic would more or less sum them up. Probably the least exciting thing I have ever put in my mouth.
My daughter detested them. The boys screwed their noses up and pushed them to one side. And I was annoyed that my plan hadn’t worked. None of us finished our dinner that night.
Meat-Free Chicken Style Joint
Not gonna lie, I didn’t have high hopes for this one, but I was desperate to find a meat free alternative for our weekly Sunday roasts and so I was willing to give it a go. I knew for a fact that I’d never get this past the boys, so I roasted them a couple of chicken breasts, leaving me and my daughter as guineapigs.
And actually, despite it looking like a very anaemic block of Spam, we were both pleasantly surprised. I mean sure it ain’t no joint of lamb, but it does the job. The best I can liken it to, is that Bernard Mathews turkey breast roast joint you can get, you know that one in the freezer aisle that’s cheap as chips and looks totally synthetic. It’s certainly not unpleasant and with gravy and a bit of mint sauce, along with all the other roast trimmings it’s actually delish. The daughter ate it without fuss and to me well that’s a win.
Would I buy it again though? Honestly, probably not. Because the thing is when it’s just the two of us, it’s kind of a bit much, and yes you could argue it could be used for leftovers, but it deffo doesn’t taste as good second time round. I think I would much rather do veggie sausages instead so that I can cook what we need and avoid food waste issues. But if you’re cooking for more than two people who are plant based then this is worth keeping an eye out for.
Asda Vegetarian Cauliflower Cheese Crispy Grills
These aren’t in the plant based range, as they contain dairy and are therefore only suitable for vegetarians and not vegans, which of course is fine in our instance. But I wanted to include them, as I have been eating these (or at least a very similar product from a different brand) since I first became a vegetarian in my early teens, and they are honestly the best thing ever. If you like cauliflower cheese and you are a fan of beige food then these my friends are the absolute dream.
My daughter doesn’t like them because of the cheese element, although weirdly she does like cauliflower cheese…. go figure. But for those days when you need comfort food or you need a simple raid the freezer bung in the oven kinda dinner, these cauliflower grills are perfect. I always make sure I’ve got a packet stashed away in the freezer drawers for that very reason.
I had personally never heard of This™ before, it just wasn’t on my radar at all. But then I guess unless you’re specifically looking for plantbased products why would it be? The main ingredients of their products are soy bean protein, water and pea protein and they have spent a long time researching how to make plantbased products more like meat. From flavour to texture they have created something that is probably the closest thing you will get to eating meat, without actually eating meat.
This™ Isn’t Bacon – Plantbased Bacon Rashers
When I was a vegetarian in my teens the thing that I missed the most and the thing that ultimately swayed me back to meat eating ways was bacon. I’m not sure what it is about bacon, but we love it and it is often cited as the main reason for vegetarians converting back to a meat based diet. In the 90s there were no products that came even close to replicating bacon, it was either Quorn meat, Quorn chunks, nut cutlets, beige food or pasta, lots and lots of pasta. So it’s no wonder that I eventually caved… the delicious smoky smell of bacon wafting through the house on a Saturday morning was literally torture.
When I opened the packet it was the smell that hit me first; smoky and very much like bacon, but in more of a smoky bacon crisp kind of way. I would suggest you focus a lot more on the smell rather than what it looks like at first, because it does look a bit weird. They’ve clearly tried to replicate the look of bacon rashers, but each one is a lot thicker and denser than bacon, if anything it looks more like jerky. The texture is quite rubbery, which isn’t great but it is a good substitute all things considered.
You fry it in the same way that you would bacon and it even goes a little bit crispy around the edges, which adds to its authenticity. I made the decision to serve it in a roll with a fried egg, mainly because I was pretty certain my daughter would turn her nose up at it and I thought the egg would help disguise it a little. But nope she hated it. As did the boys, who were feeling miffed that their usual Saturday lunchtime bacon roll had quite literally been replaced with This™.
So here’s the deal, it was edible, but it was certainly nowhere near as good as bacon. But then come on that is a blinkin’ big ask, right!?! I think it’s mainly a texture thing, as the taste is pretty good, although you probably wouldn’t want to eat a piece on its own. Interestingly, I chopped the leftovers up into tiny pieces and put them into an omelette the following day and no one batted an eyelid. With that in mind I would say that this is brill in small doses as crispy ‘unbacon’ bits to scatter on top of things or to use in small pieces on top of a pizza or in risottos etc., but it’s never going to replace the meaty juiciness of a good old bacon sarnie.
This™ Isn’t Chicken – Plantbased Sea Salt & Black Pepper Pieces
This on the other hand is AMAZING! Seriously, if you thought Quorn was unbeatable in the replacement chicken department then this is a whole other level. It looks like chicken, it cooks like chicken, christ it actually even tastes like chicken. Every single one of us, my son included, loved these plantbased chicken pieces. OK, OK so I totally played the sneaky mum card when it came to getting my son to eat it, because staunch anti-vegan that he is (it’s an age thing!) there’s no way he would have eaten it had he known. So I a popped a couple of pieces in with his chicken curry and lo and behold he couldn’t even tell. If that’s not enough proof for you, then I’m not sure what is. This is 100% a winner winner chicken dinner.
Quorn has been our absolute saviour throughout this venture into vegetarianism and I honestly don’t think we would have lasted as long as we did if it wasn’t for this veggie wonderfood. Quorn mince, chunks, nuggets all absolutely brilliant and even the meat eating boys admitted it was alright… as far as vegetarian food goes (their words not mine!). There are absolutely tonnes of different Quorn products out there, all centred around the chosen protein source; mycoprotein. Mycoprotein comes from a fungus called Fusarium venenatum and not only does it taste about as close to meat as you’re going to get in a plant based product, but it also uses 90% less land and water than some animal protein sources, making it a much more sustainable choice of food.
My daughter absolutely loves the Quorn nuggets because they taste so much like chicken and as such will definitely remain on our menu and in our freezer even though we are now back to eating meat. So I figured the Quorn breaded fillets would go down just as well, I mean surely they’re basically bigger, badder chicken nuggets right? More to love yeah? But that’s kids for you isn’t it, ‘cos turns out Quorn breaded fillets aren’t as nice as Quorn nuggets, well not according to my daughter anyway. Personally I can’t tell the difference, other than you’re getting more, which in my eyes is always a win.
Chicken Free Slices
I really, really wanted to like these… but my goodness it’s horrible! My son described it as tasting like shoe leather and I’ve gotta say that for once I agree with him. Tasteless, rubbery and just plain grim really. So disappointing, because I was totally hoping that this would be a good chicken slice substitute as sometimes my daughter veers away from Marmite and has chicken in her sandwiches, but eurgh no. Not one of us of liked this and personally I wouldn’t go wasting your money on it.
And then there’s this…. vegan pepperoni. To be fair it looks like pepperoni, it even kinda smells like pepperoni, and you’ve got to admire the front of this one, considering it doesn’t even label itself as meat free pepperoni, just out and out this is pepperoni.
But again the texture let’s it down. Not nice on it’s own, not particularly nice on pizza either for that matter. If you like the sound of spicy luncheon meat then hey give it a go, otherwise steer clear.
Linda McCartney Products
Ah good old Linda McCartney, one of the original pioneers of vegetarian products. On the 30th April, 1991, Linda McCartney launched her meat free brand at The Savoy Hotel in London. Sadly Linda died from breast cancer just seven years later, but her family continued to build the business and today it is still going strong. What started out as a 12 product range has at least tripled in my estimation, and those products are tastier than ever.
You can’t go wrong with a veggie sausage can you, I mean surely with the amount of grain that gets bunged in meat sausages these days you’d probably struggle to tell them apart right?
I was really impressed with these vegetarian sausages, partly I guess because I remember how gross they were back in the early 90s! Inside it looks exactly like the texture of a meat sausage and they were really tasty. My daughter liked them at first then she said she only liked them if she had a mouthful of mash with it at the same time, which promptly turned to gagging and spitting them out and then saying I don’t really like sausages anyway. Brilliant! As you’ve probably worked out by now, my daughter is a tough cookie to please.
Vegetarian Sausage Rolls
These look amazing on the packet, but considering how my daughter reacted to the Linda McCartney sausages and I am presuming these use the same sausages wrapped in pastry, I didn’t exactly have high hopes. But wow the addition of pastry it seems, transforms the veggie sausages beyond belief.
So good, like really amazingly, droolworthy good. You get 6 in a pack and they’re a decent size too. I served it up as the main part of a dinner, like a roast alternative if you like, and my daughter also took a cold one to school to make a change from her staple Marmite sandwiches. And yeah, they’re pretty spesh. All 4 of us loved them and my son even asked for more, which literally made my jaw drop. If you buy any veggie product from this selection, this is the one!
Move Over Meat
Another brand I hadn’t heard of before, but I saw them in Waitrose and thought we’d give them a go. I tried to find out a bit more about the brand but weirdly their website doesn’t let you in (they must be having issues with something techy or other at the mo) but it looks like they have a Facebook page). From what I can gather they make plant based ‘junk food’ for want of a better word – so things like nuggets, burgers etc.
Meat Free Southern Fried Nuggets
These are pretty much what they say they are on the packet. Nothing fancy, just decent tasting beige meat free freezer food. Basically like Quorn nuggets but with a delicious southern fried style coating… which was exactly the thing my daughter didn’t like about them. Seriously debating whether the vegetarian life is for her or not, because seriously!!!
At £2 a box… can’t remember how many you get in a packet, but it’ll do you enough for 2 or 3 meals I reckon… it’s a handy stash away in the freezer kinda meal.
Vivera is a Dutch company who have been making plant based food since 1990, which is incredible really because again I’ve never heard of them. There are 10 products in the range, which includes things like: Plant Greek Kebab, Plant Burger, Plant Mince, Plant Steak and the Plant Bacon Pieces that we tried out.
Plant Bacon Pieces
I was so keen to try this, especially having already tried the This™ Isn’t plant based bacon above. As you can see from the picture, these are bacon pieces rather than rashers so it does kind of mean that bacon sarnies are out, but it’s great for using in other meals. And I’ve got to say I was even more impressed by this one. The texture is great, the flavour is spot on and it was actually really delicious.
This is by far the best bacon alternative I’ve come across and if bacon is the thing you’re missing as a vegetarian/vegan you should deffo give this a go. Lot’s of smoky flavour that adds a bit more oomph to a meal.
OK so in terms of products my daughter liked, well there weren’t that many to be honest, so clearly not the rave reviews I was possibly hoping for. And as you’ll discover if you read my post about her vegetarian journey you’ll know that she is no longer meat free, so products such as these weren’t enough to tempt her over to the ‘greenside’ for good. But this is all a learning process right? She tried, and was willing to try (which is a pretty big deal for her), foods that she would have 100% turned her nose up at before. And we did manage to find some goodies in there, which we will continue to use – the This™ Isn’t Chicken is a revelation and Quorn mince has replaced meat mince. This is by no means a comprehensive list of vegetarian foods, it has literally scratched the surface. But hopefully if you ever find yourself in a similar situation to me, with a child who wants to become vegetarian overnight and you have no clue where to start – this may at least help you get started.
*All products were bought independently by me.