To be precise, I did not become a vegan, or even a vegetarian during lent. I simply committed to 40 days of more meatless meals, with the quantitative goal of at least one vegetarian/vegan meal per week. In practice, this turned out to be at least three meals – one dinner made at least another lunch and dinner most of the time, and I found myself gravitating more and more to meatless options. But I’ll get into that.
What I made
- Chickpea and vegetable stir fry
- Lentil-tempeh sloppy joes
- Curried lentils
- Black bean burgers
- Baked falafel
- Butternut squash tacos
- Black eyed peas and greens
- Lentil-mushroom burgers
- Vegetable frittata
- ….and many more
How I felt
One huge benefit of a plant-based diet is more fiber – no vegetarian ever had trouble pooping (assuming they’re not subsisting on veggie nuggets and processed mac n cheese). So in a digestive sense, I felt great! Now, I typically eat a lot of vegetables anyway, but I think the main change in fiber content of my diet was increased soluble fiber from including more beans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: most of us can stand to eat more beans and lentils. It’s always a good choice!
Energy-wise, I also felt awesome. As previously discussed, vegetarian diets are typically higher in carbohydrate which is great for endurance exercise. Seeing as I ran a marathon (and a huge PR at that!) during this time period, I definitely think the varied sources of plant-based complex carbohydrates helped me out. I often eat a little lower-carbohydrate for dinner, sticking with a protein source and vegetables, and when that protein is animal-based there’s not a lot of carb to power an AM run. I realize it would be as simple as cooking a pot of rice or making a piece of toast, but it doesn’t always happen.
When it comes to hunger, I was not more hungry than normal. One of the reasons that protein gets a lot of play these days is because its satiating effects – it takes a long time to digest protein compared with carbohydrate, so including protein (which often means meat) at meals is a dieter’s dream! Any responsible vegetarian or vegan meal will also contain protein – just probably a little more carb too.
Reasons it rocked
- Increased creativity: Going meatless forces me, a standardly meat-eating person, to break free of the meat-veg-starch equation to mealtime. Trying new recipes is always enjoyable, and I not only had a reason to, I needed to. Vegetarian recipes are really fun because a lot of cultures and cuisines that I’m not quite as familiar with are traditionally meatless. Sure, I’ve eaten Thai and Indian food, but I don’t always cook it in the kitchen. Getting acquainted to some different spice combinations was really fun.
- $$$$: Also, it’s no secret that a pound of beans is a million times cheaper than a pound of meat, especially if we’re talkin’ high-quality lean meats. The two of us hit $100 on the weekly grocery trip pretty easily if we’re not careful (this includes Brooks’ weekend beer haul, personal care products, and household products, and forget about it if it’s a dog food week) but we are able to stay well under on the weeks when we don’t purchase meat. And that’s with nuts, coffee, and an exorbitant amount of and fresh vegetables and fruits.
Reasons I am not going 100% veg
We all know Ellen would tell me I’m wrong for not going vegan, and she’s probably right – you can eat a diet of perfectly sound nutrition without any animal products. I know that. I can do that. I am choosing not to, for a few reasons.
- I’m not the only one in the house! While Brooks does gets really into the vegetarian meals he also is a fan of meat from time to time, especially small amounts of cured meats to add flavor to dishes (I know, a guy that cooks well and understands flavor and nutrition is tough to find but I got one!). Since I also really do like to eat meat, I’m not going to go out of my way to cook a separate vegetarian meal any time dinner includes animal products. Having consciously reduced our meat consumption is awesome, but I don’t think that complete elimination is necessary, and I thoroughly enjoy the time we spend cooking and eating meals together.
- Iron. While there is iron in a lot of plant foods, it’s not quite as easy to absorb as it is from animal sources. There are great iron supplements on the market but I kind of suck at taking them. I have a history of anemia, and I just know that when I get that a little bit over-tired, a little bit sluggish, heart beating a little bit harder feeling that getting some chicken thighs and bison bolognese on the menu the following week is a good idea for me. I’m probably biased because it’s worked in the past, but it makes me feel secure in my iron status.
- My numbers are healthy. High cholesterol is a really good reason to go vegan or vegetarian. Mine’s fine, so saturated fat from animal products is something I feel comfortable with in moderation. If this were to change, I feel confident that I would do just fine completely eliminating meat.
- I live in freaking Texas. Enough said.
What has stuck
We are now way far out from the Lenten challenge (sorry guys) so I can confidently say the following:
- I’ve got an arsenal of quick plant-based meals for busy days. No longer do I turn immediately to the chicken sausage in the freezer, I can also grab a can of beans out of the pantry and have something delicious ready super fast.
- We have kept up with at least one meatless meal weekly. Whether it’s a big pot of beans cooked on Sunday, meatless tacos, or some sort of veggie burgers, it’s much more common for us to consider vegetarian and vegan options in the meal planning process.
- Grocery bills are down. I’m tellin’ ya, if you decide you’re having chickpea tacos for dinner one night and leftovers the next instead of chicken tacos, you’ll halve your food cost.
- Creativity is up. Simply by spending a month making new and different dishes, I’ve changed up my mindset a bit and have begun to think outside of the box when it comes to using up things in the fridge or deciding what we’re eating for the next week.
- A love affair with nutritional yeast. I have known about and appreciated nutri yeast (as I lovingly call it, to myself, in my brain, not out loud) for YEARS now, but haven’t kept in in the house for a long time. I bought some to make tahini dressing with, and can’t get enough. Toast + butter or PB + nutriyeast = YES. Egg scramble + nutri yeast = please sir I’ll have another. Roasted vegetables + nutriyeast…you get the idea. It’s delicious, a non-salty yet decidedly umami flavor that goes really well with savory dishes, and it supplies a healthy dose of B-vitamins, fiber, and complete protein. Get some.
I really want to continue seeking out new and different ways to incorporate plant protein. One big one that I never got around to was making my own Seitan so if any h-town foodies wanna get in on that adventure hit me up! But in general, exploring different recipes is a constant goal. Possibly ordering “700 Vegetarian Health Recipes” from the nutritional yeast label because it sounds hilarious and look at that hat and the idea of sending away for a book in the mail is so wonderfully reminiscent of yesteryear that I can’t hardly stand it. The same authors also have a book called “Build Powerful Nerve Force”. Now if classes didn’t start up again in a week I might have to make it a double order…