I believe wholeheartedly that the best kinds of vegan foods are those that come naturally out of the ground; whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. However, when you are just starting out as a vegan, trying to convince someone that going vegan isn't that hard, or on special occasions, vegan junk food can be a fun alternative.
The good news is that vegan foods have moved well beyond plain chunks of tofu and grainy soymilk into a new world where almost any junk food you can think of is also made vegan. Now, you can hand someone a vegan cookie and they would literally never know the difference. Nondairy ice cream has the same texture as regular ice cream, especially if it's made from creamier, richer milks like coconut milk. There are even vegan alternatives to cheese, cheese puffs, and most of your favorite snack foods.
While I have heard of a few people who were able to lose weight simply by substituting the vegan junk food for all the non-vegan junk food they used to eat, I still don't believe it's the healthiest way to live. Healthier, sure, but they can't be considered healthy because you aren't feeding your body with the power of real, whole foods.
When you're starting out, some of these vegan foods can be really helpful for making the transition to a vegan diet. You can just replace the idea of a meat and potatoes and broccoli dinner with a seitan and potatoes and broccoli dinner. As you become more comfortable, you can phase out the fake meat and focus more on whole protein sources like beans and lentils.
However, I also don't believe in depravation. If you tell yourself you absolutely cannot have something, you keep it lodged in the back of your brain in a compartment that might as well have a bright red button on it that says, "Don't Push."
Eventually you cave, and the guilt of that can lead to overeating "since you've already ruined your diet," which leads to more guilt, and having a body that aches from the junk you're loading into it.
You do best to focus yourvegan diet on whole grains, beans and legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts and seeds. You don't need to sit around and count calories, and you'll always feel energized and full when you eat this way.
If you do want to splurge, do it on vegan foods.
You can start by having a nice cocktail party with vegan wine and cheese. These are my favorite vegan cheese options, and I also adore nut cheese. I include recipes for the best nondairy cheeses I've ever made in my ebook, Cut the Cheese.
If you prefer a nice cold, foamy glass of beer, there are plenty of vegan beer options that are either unfiltered or filtered with vegan ingredients.
There are tons of meat alternatives in the form of vegan burgers, hot dogs, sausages, hamburger crumbles, deli meats, roasts, and anything else you can imagine. There's even a company now called Sophie's Kitchen that manufactures and sells vegan shrimp, calamari and other seafood in many Whole Foods locations.
If you have a raging sweet tooth, don't worry that giving up dairy will prevent you from indulging every once in a while. Many chocolate companies make vegan chocolate completely by accident when they produce very dark chocolate and don't add many ingredients. Other companies specialize in completely vegan chocolate, which is splendid.
You can even find vegan marshmallows to smash together with your chocolate on a graham for a nice vegan s'more.
If you are more of a hard candy fan, there are tons of vegan candy options available.
And, lastly for the sweets, vegan ice cream has come a long way and will probably keep revolutionizing itself. One of my favorites is So Delicious Dairy Free Ice Cream. Please feel free to share your favorites as well.
If you live in an area where these vegan foods aren't readily available, you would do well to start scouring labels and looking for foods that aren't labeled vegan, but still qualify. PETA as a nice list of vegan foods that are accidentally vegan.
Some of these vegan foods are great for the transition period, when you are still thinking about everything you CAN'T have for the rest of your life. As you get more accustomed to your new diet, they might move to be those things you strangely crave sometimes.