It’s easy to see why Nicole Vranjican—known as NikkiVegan on YouTube and Instagram—has earned such a dedicated following. She greets everyone like a long-term friend, treats them like family, and warms every room with her positivity. As a co-host on The Vegan View as well as the author of “30 Vegan Breakfasts,” Vranjican has shown thousands of people how to follow a vegan lifestyle with comfort and ease.
Today, she’s sharing her personal journey with veganism, plus the gradual steps you can take to try it for yourself.
Take us through your vegan journey. When did you decide to become vegan, and why?
Almost four years ago now, I was living in New York. I was an intern-turned-freelance-writer at a newspaper and was living a very unhealthy lifestyle. I remember one day when I didn’t sleep at all because I took on so many projects to prove myself to my boss, and that crazy workload— coupled with being stressed and tired—led me to extremely poor food choices. I gained weight and my energy levels weren’t great, and that went on for a while.
But around the time that I decided I want to move back to LA, I started watching a lot of YouTube for entertainment and I found a few vegan channels where people looked so at ease in their bodies. There was no shame about eating a gigantic bowl of veggie pasta or having a second sandwich if they were hungry. They all seemed to have this understanding about plant-based nutrition and they trusted their hunger in a way I’d never seen before. Prior to seeing that type of positivity, I would restrict myself whenever I was trying to “be good” (or what I thought was healthy). Ultimately, I would feel horrible when I inevitably caved and binged on whatever was in front of me. It was an exhausting cycle, and I was really ready for a healthier lifestyle.
So, I started incorporating more plant-based meals into my diet. It usually started with breakfast, which is why I ended up writing “30 Vegan Breakfasts” down the line. I didn’t go vegan overnight; I just started eating vegan at breakfast time, and making small changes like swapping cow’s milk for almond milk. I also focused on abundance and—this is key—it wasn’t about eating less, it was about eating better. So, on top of the cereal I was I eating, I’d add a handful of raspberries. And next to the sandwich I was having for lunch, I’d add a salad. I focused on what I was adding to my plate, not on the animal products I was taking off, and that started to make me feel amazing. I lost the weight I’d put on in New York and I noticed a big difference in how I felt when I ate vegan versus non vegan, which motivated me to continue making healthy vegan choices.
The more I learned about veganism, especially the ethical and environmental side of it, the more this seemed like the ideal way to eat. Three and a half years later, I would say I’m vegan for the animals, for the planet, and for my health, but it really started with just wanting to feel better in my skin and learning to trust my hunger, instead of always fighting it. I really think switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but I’m glad I did it slowly, and found how to make it work for me.
Has it been hard to maintain a vegan diet over the years?
No, because veganism isn’t a diet. It’s not something I “stick” to because I have incredible willpower. A switch gets flipped in your head once you really realize the connection between what’s on your plate and the effect that has on another living being, the planet, and on your health. If I’m craving a cheeseburger, I don’t deprive myself of that—I have a vegan cheese burger. If I want a cookie, I find a recipe, and I make a vegan cookie. It’s not about restriction or giving up your favorite foods; it’s about living and eating in a way that reflects what’s in your heart.
What are your favorite vegan tips for someone who is struggling to change the way they eat?
Know your why. Your “why” is your intention. That is the most important part. Why do you want to change the way you eat? Why is that important to you? Knowing that will help bolster your willpower when you start to feel tempted in the beginning. Also, so important—focus on what you’re adding to your plate. A whole-foods plant-based diet is about abundance, not deprivation.
If you’re someone who loves nachos and pizza now, it’s ridiculous to think you’ll be able to exclusively eat kale salads from here on out and be satisfied! Just replace the animal-based products you love with vegan options and add some healthy stuff to your plate, too. Have the vegan pizza and a salad. Add a handful of broccoli to your vegan mac and cheese, or put strawberry and banana slices on top of your morning bowl of oatmeal. More fruits and veggies will make you feel great, but so will being gentle with your transition. Meet yourself where you’re at—which requires being honest about your daily habits—and making small, deliberate changes that align with your “why.” It’s not a race. There’s no prize for being the most perfect vegan there ever was. If you’re trying to making lasting change, focus on your intention. And, as Oprah says, “Then focus on the next right step, and the next, and the next.” That will help you so much more than aiming for perfection right out of the gate.
How has Thrive Market helped make the vegan diet easy and accessible?
So many vegan options! And the vegan filter makes searching for what I need so easy. At the store, I have to read a lot of labels to make sure there’s no egg in the pasta I’m buying or cheese in the crackers I want to try. But on Thrive Market, I select the vegan filter and everything that’s not vegan disappears. It makes things so much easier, and again, it saves so much time!
What are your favorite recipes for snacking?
My vegan jackfruit nacho recipe is up there. I make the cheese sauce out of butternut squash and it’s just so good!
For hosting a group of people?
My veganized version of Giada De Laurentiis’ Parmesan Pomodoro pasta is great for guests because it looks like your typical pasta with tomato sauce, but it’s incredibly flavorful. Amazing depth of flavor, and slightly cheesy, too. Also so simple to make, but your guests don’t need to know that. I serve this with a big green salad and maybe garlic bread, too … because, why not?
And for a cozy night in?
I have a video on my channel called “Nikki’s Lentil Curry Recipe” and it’s one of my favorites. I make it in big batches and even though it’s very simple, it’s super flavorful and filling. The process of making it is kind of like making soup, so it’s a cozy process. I love the idea of a night in with a warm dinner simmering away in the kitchen after a long day.
What are your favorite products that you always order, and how do you use them?
OK, my NEW favorite is non-food related. I just got a vegan cream blush and I love it so much! It’s the W3LL PEOPLE Nudist Multi-Use Stick. I dab it directly onto my cheeks and the bridge of my nose and then blend it out with my fingers. It looks so natural on my skin!
For food favorites, organic spices like turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, paprika, and dried herbs … very into fennel seed right now. I also get a lot of snacks to bring to the set of The Vegan View on filming days (Sriracha Sunshine Hippeas are our favorite.) I also love the Thrive Market Sea Salt Plantain Chips, and vegan dark chocolate chips are my go-to whenever I’m baking cookies or making vegan chocolate chip pancakes.
What is your secret kitchen weapon, and how do you use it?
Tahini! It’s so versatile. I use it a lot in my hummus recipes, but I also love using tahini to make salad dressings. It can also be used to make my baked tempeh recipe, or stirred into a veggie stir-fry. So delicious.