I went vegetarian for a week- and this is what I learnt…

If you follow my Instagram account (if not, the link is over to the right), then you may know that my diet is predominantly veggie based- along with some dairy, eggs, and fish. I am basically a pescetarian, though I don’t like using any kind of label with what I eat (it feels too inflexible, and doesn’t cater for any changes in my tastes- which, let’s be honest, could definitely happen). This means that it wasn’t too difficult to challenge myself to go vegetarian for a week, as something I’ve been curious about for a long while now…

I have to say, I enjoyed going vegetarian for the week. It reminded me of a year or so ago, when I began cutting out meat (for no particular reason other than I gradually began to not like the taste, and found it turned my stomach) and the changes I saw happening- my digestion improved, and I felt more energetic basically. However, I didn’t necessarily find that I gained magical super powers, or became superior to everyone else in some way, or went from a 3 to a 10 on the scale of hotness- as some would have you believe. This was what I found personally, it could be different for you. I do feel, having said that, that everyone should try to increase the number of vegetarian meals that they eat. Its better for our planet, and a lot of people could do with learning that vegetarian food is delicious and not boring!

Don’t worry though guys, I have no intention of cutting fish out completely- or eggs and dairy. In other words, I have no intention of going vegan- though at some point in the future I would be interested in seeing if I could live off of a vegan diet for one week, as I feel this could also encourage me to try a lot of new recipes.

So, what did I learn from a week of going completely veggie? Well, lets take a look:

  • When eating as a vegetarian, you’ll probably need to eat a higher volume of food. Vegetables take up a lot of space in your stomach, but provide fewer calories than their meat alternative. This is especially true if your meal is all vegetables/pulses, and not made entirely of dairy products or pastry. I found that including higher fat/ calorie foods really helped with satiety- nut butters, nuts, and avocados were all great options. You just need to ensure that you eat sensible portion sizes, and a wide variety of foods. Which brings us to my next point…
  • You can’t rely on dairy. I am not a massive cheese fan as it is, but I also roped my family into eating a few vegetarian meals with me, and when discussing meal ideas, all my dad could think of was dairy based dishes. Macaroni cheese, mushroom stroganoff, cheese and pickle sandwiches, cheese and crackers, goats cheese tartlets… This is why people have the misconception that vegetarian food is boring.
  • You need to be conscious of protein- but don’t worry, you will get enough. Plant foods do contain protein, but you need to be more mindful that you’re including it in your diet. Vegetarian protein sources include eggs, cheese, red kidney beans, lentils, nuts, nut butter, yoghurt, oats, chickpeas, and also (if you want to try it out) vegetarian protein powder. Obviously, you would probably eat some more than others. In addition to this (A-Level food tech here) protein combining is useful, to ensure that you get in all of the essential amino acids. Protein combining is where two “incomplete” sources of protein are eaten together, to provide all the same amino acids that a “complete” protein would. You will probably do this without even thinking about it. For example, beans on toast, or lentil curry with rice, are both great options. If you’re going permanently veggie, I would do some thorough research, and book an appointment to discuss this with your doctor, or a dietician, to ensure that you’re getting everything you need.
  • You will end up trying so many new dishes. Step away from the cheese, head over to Pinterest, or grab a veggie food magazine, and make a list of interesting meals to try. I did this, and made: a tagine, a veggie curry, a chickpea stew, a vegetable lasagne, a lentil “meat”loaf, and of course I ate several favourite classics such as ratatouille, tofu scrambles, foo yung etc. I still have several recipes to try as well.
  • It isn’t difficult. If you don’t have time to be trying loads of new dishes, you can easily make a stir fry with veggies, eggs, and noodles. You can have a potato stuffed with garlic beans, mushrooms, and spinach or kale. You can have baked beans on toast, make a veggie pitta pizza, a frittata, an omelette, some porridge with fruit and nut butter, numerous different smoothies, massive salads, poached eggs and avocado on toast, just avocado on toast, hummus and veggie wraps, banana and cream cheese sandwiches…
  • It isn’t expensive. In fact, its pretty cheap. When I cooked for my family, it meant that this was one night they weren’t buying a big pack of chicken, fish, or sausages- instead buying vegetables and canned beans. For myself, I also bought Quorn, and tofu. Overall, though you have to buy more because of point no.1, it does work out cheaper. This is especially true when you buy seasonal ingredients in bulk, and meal plan well. Frozen berries are another way of saving money, as they last longer. You can plan meals so that you eat several of the same ingredients during the week, but use them differently each time. So, for tea on Monday I might have a stir fry with broccoli, pepper, carrot, and mushrooms, along with some baked tofu and noodles. I could then have the leftover veg in an egg scramble the next day, with toast. Another night I could have Quorn sausages with steamed broccoli, carrots, sweet potato mash and gravy. A roasted pepper and mushroom wrap with tofu and hummus would do for another night. On top of this, batch cooking is great: the tagine I made served four, so I have three more meals in the freezer; the lasagne served six, and so fed my family, and left two portions to freeze; the chickpea stew served three, and so I had two portions to defrost quickly when needed…
  • But you might need to go shopping more frequently. I find this happens when you eat lots of fresh ingredients anyway. You will need to keep tabs on which ingredients you go through quickly, in order monitor when you need more. Examples for me were yoghurt, lettuce, pears, and bananas. At the very most it ends up the same price as buying food to feed yourself if you eat meat- but it definitely isn’t more expensive, and more often than not, it still works out cheaper.
  • Don’t tell yourself its forever. Take it one day at a time, instead of swearing off of a food point blank. Even though I knew it was just for a week, the minute I thought “I can’t have salmon/tuna/prawns”, I wanted them. Focus on what you are eating, and it eliminates you craving them. If I were to go vegetarian, this is probably how I’d handle it. And I have to say, I didn’t miss the above foods that much, though by the end of the week I did really enjoy my can of tuna.
  • I’ve learnt I could probably eat less fish. I have NO INTENTION of giving it up, but I will probably be eating less of it, purely so that I can continue trying new veggie recipes, and also in the interest of keeping costs down at uni. My smoked salmon isn’t going anywhere soon though.
  • You CAN still eat out. I went to Nando’s, shrine to all things chicken, whilst doing this challenge. I don’t usually eat chicken anyway, but even here you have options. I love their veggie burger, and they’re usually happy to give me a veggie burger on top of their salads instead of a chicken breast. However, if I had been going elsewhere I would have checked the menu- for example, I know that TGI Friday’s doesn’t have that great a veggie menu, so would probably ask friends if we could go somewhere else if this was mentioned.

There you have it, what I learnt over one week (and a bit actually- about 8 days in total) of being a vegetarian. And I have to say, I really enjoyed myself. Below, I have a link to the lasagne recipe I tried (I was asked where it was from over on IG), which you may want to check out. It’s a little time consuming, but tastes amazing. If you decide to try this yourself, let me know how you did, and your favourite veggie meals, down below!

For the veggie lasagne : http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/lighter-vegetable-lasagne

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