Vegan Meat Substitutes, Good for Your Budget and Your Health

Vegan Meat Substitutes, Good for Your Budget and Your Health

Publish Date November 7, 2023 5 Minute Read

Eat plant-based, with easy vegan swaps and vegan meat substitutes. You can find the vegan protein, and the textures and flavors you crave, with plants.

Whether you are committing to a plant-based, vegan lifestyle, or simply want to cut back on meat, finding meat alternatives that you enjoy is good for you, and the planet. It’s easy, inexpensive, and smart to add some homemade vegan meat substitutes to your cooking repertoire. While prepared burgers and mock meats have become grocery store staples, non-meat proteins have always been around in the form of beans, nuts, seeds, and yes, grains and vegetables. Making your own vegan burgers, meatloaves, and even “chicken” is simple enough for even kitchen newbies.

Making Vegan Meat Substitutes is Easy

If you’re new to swapping out the meat, don’t worry. You’ll find plenty of vegan protein is in familiar foods, with the bonus of other plant nutrients as well. A jar of peanut butter is a vegan meat substitute, if you think about it, and 2 tablespoons has 8 grams protein and 190 calories. A really easy vegan meat alternative is a simple dish of beans or lentils, but if you want a burger, try the black bean and quinoa burger. It never hurts to investigate the bean dishes of other cultures, where creative cooks have developed classic dishes like Tuscan Bean Skillet or Chickpea Curry.

Take the Next Step and Make Vegan Ground Beef

One of the easier meat substitutes to make at home is vegan ground beef, and there are plenty of ways to do it. Whether you use tempeh, seitan, tofu, nuts, mushrooms, or another plant-based sub, you just need to grind of mince it to the same size as a bit of ground beef, then sauté or simmer with seasonings that mimic tacos, sausage, chili, or your favorite sloppy joe. For a burger, you’ll need a binder to hold it together, and then to bake or sauté the patty.

Yes, You Can Make a Chicken Substitute

Missing spicy wings? Cauliflower “wings” have made their way onto the appetizer menus of many restaurants and can make an appearance at your next Game night. Once dipped in flavorful batter and either roasted or fried, cauliflower florets become a crispy bite, to dip in your favorite sauce. You can also make your own Chickeny Seitan, a protein rich vegan chicken substitute made from gluten. For convenient vegan protein, try one of the many frozen plant-based chicken products, and serve them on a slider, or in your favorite chicken dishes.

Vegan Meat Substitute Recipes

Take Your Pick of Vegan Meat Alternatives

Beans, Lentils and other Legumes

Beans and legumes are truly the original plant-based protein, going back to prehistoric times. Every culture has a bean dish or two, using inexpensive, portable, easy to store dried legumes. Beans are considered one of the most healthful foods on the planet and associated with longer lifespans and reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Unlike animal foods, beans and legumes have soluble fiber, which absorbs water in the gut and whisks away cholesterol as it passes through, and insoluble fiber, which help with regularity and feeds a healthy gut microbiome. Each variety of bean has a unique mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which are protective.

Chickpeas, which stand out for having more complete protein than some legumes, are an example of the potent package that beans provide. 1 cup cooked chickpeas, no salt added, has 14 grams of protein, 12 grams of fiber and 269 calories. Hummus has become a staple, providing a protein alternative to meat in the form of a tasty dip, but don’t stop there. Chickpeas can become falafel, burgers, salads, and more. Sheet Pan Curry Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas or Chickpea Patties made with a vegan egg substitute are a great place to start.


Tempeh is a chunky, chewy cake made from fermented soybeans, and sometimes added grains and beans. Because it’s fermented, the nutrients in the soybeans are more digestible and absorbable. Four ounces of tempeh has a whopping 20 grams of protein, 12 grams of fiber and only 220 calories. To make a vegan ground beef substitute, cube and steam the tempeh briefly (necessary to deactivate the culture) and then grind in a food processor to make bits the size of ground beef. Sauté the tempeh with onions and seasonings or add to simmering spaghetti sauce or chili. Tempeh Tacos are a great introduction.


Tofu originated in China and has served as a meat alternative for Buddhists and vegetarians since before written history. Made by cooking yellow soybeans, grinding them with water, straining and then coagulating the milk, tofu comes in many forms. Because the solids have been strained out, tofu doesn’t have the fiber and calories of other bean foods, and four ounces of firm tofu provides 9 grams of protein and 80 calories. Tofu can be crumbled, cubed, sliced, or pureed, and is versatile enough to make a Frittata or Tofu Satay.


Nuts are a crunchy, delicious way to add protein, healthy fats, and fiber to everything from salads to pastas. They are also capable to being transformed into non-dairy milks and cheeses, and almond milk and cashew cheese are being embraced by vegans and non-vegans alike. One fourth cup (30 g) of chopped walnuts has 5 grams of protein, 20 grams of fat and 200 calories, and the fat is high in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. Try a Farro Waldorf Salad or Trapanese Pesto with Almonds.


Hemp, chia, sesame and pumpkinseeds are rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats, so keep them handy to sprinkle over bowls and salads, and to mix into vegan burgers and loaves. Two tablespoons of hemp seeds contain 6 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat and 114 calories. Seeds can also be ground to make spreadable seed butter or blended into sauces like pesto. Try using tahini in these Mediterranean Vegan Burgers.

Seitan and other Mock Meats

Seitan, or Mock Duck, is made from wheat gluten, the protein in wheat flour. One cup of seitan has 17 grams of protein, .5 grams of fat and 100 calories. You can make your own with Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, and make Chickeny Seitan, or buy one of the pre-made chicken products made with gluten. The many frozen burgers, sausages and other mock meats vary by brand, and may be made with gluten, soy, pea protein, or other plant-based ingredients, so check labels to find your favorites.


Young Jackfruit is the immature fruit of a tropical tree, which is fibrous and stringy when cooked. It has become a popular stand-in for pork or other “pulled” meats, when simmered in a flavorful sauce. Half a cup of young jackfruit has 1 gram protein, zero fat and 40 calories, so it is not a protein source, but does make a chewy Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich.


Cauliflower wings, steaks, tacos, and chili utilize the chameleon quality of this nutritious vegetable. While it’s not a big protein source, with one cup chopped offering up 2 grams of protein, .3 grams of fat and 27 calories, using it in familiar meat dishes is a great way to eat more veggies. Try Roasted Cauliflower Steaks.


Mushrooms have been a vegan meat substitute for years, in part because they are high in “Umami” chemicals, which give the fungi a “meaty” quality. One cup of mushrooms has 3 grams of protein, almost no fat and 21 calories, so pile them on. Try a whole portabella, marinated and grilled in place of a burger, or make Creamy Cashew Pasta with Mushrooms or Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff.

Nutritional Yeast

You may have seen these yellow flakes or powder in the store, or had it sprinkled over popcorn. Nutritional yeast is often added to vegan meat substitutes to add a cheesy, meaty quality, and because it has B12 that can be lacking in a vegan diet. One fourth cup has 8 grams of protein, no fat, and 60 calories.

Protein Powders

If you’re looking to add some pure protein to a plant-based diet, protein powders made from pea, soy, hemp and other plant sources will do it. Two scoops (1/4 cup) pea protein delivers 27 grams of protein, no fat and 120 calories. In smoothies, baked goods, or these Breakfast Protein Cookies, you can get the protein you crave without meat.

The world of vegan meat alternatives is huge and growing every day. Whether you start by adding some canned beans to your shopping list or investigate making your own vegan ground beef or chicken substitute, you can easily replace your favorite meals with familiar ones made plant-based or try exciting new flavors that showcase versatile vegan meat alternatives.