Recently back from a fab skiing holiday where I felt like I ate my body-weight in cheese fondue and bacon filled tartiflette it felt like time for a shake-up to my diet.
In starting out on a healthy eating overhaul last year as well as being massively inspired by the online healthy eating community on social media, I have become more and more aware of eating vegetarian or vegan meals. There are plenty of health benefits to vegetarian and vegan diets of course, but also a huge stack of ethical and food-waste issues that plant-based diets tackle too.
Now I have never been a massive meat eater. My mum very rarely cooked red meat at home for us growing up and I've very much continued that way in my own meal prep. I even did a year as a vegetarian when I was about 9 years old - head strong tiny me insisted and my parents very kindly obliged for 12 months!
However I've always loved fish and seafood of all kinds and I enjoy my family Sunday roast and date night steaks. And I did have a bacon sandwich on 1st January once that vegetarian year was over... So whilst I eat a lot of fruit and veg in my diet, I've never tried to go totally vegan.
I'm not going to get into the health benefits or limitations of a vegan diet, I'll leave that to the experts.
If you're interested I'd recommend Plantbased Pixie's article for Veganuary and also the NHS's advice on how to get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet. I did also pick up this great little chart from Vegan Food & Living magazine created by Liz Cook Charts which you might want to refer to if you're thinking about trying vegan.
Instead I'm giving you my diary of a week on a 7 Day Plantbased Challenge.
Review of Planet Organic 7 Day Plantbased Challenge
The plan offered a great variety of foods and having attended one of Bettina's pop-up supper clubs last year I was really looking forward to being inspired with new recipes and ingredients. I also assumed that with a meal-plan that I'd be getting a good mix of the nutrients I needed for the week.
As usual though, real life does get in the way. I'm not sure I know of anyone who would stick to a 7 day meal plan like this because it basically means never going out to eat!
I live in London and it's pretty much a way of life for me at the moment to arrange to meet friends for lunch or dinner at least two or three times a week. The week I chose was typically peppered with meals out and that's where the fun really began....
Pret coconut porridge
I wanted to start this challenge doing Monday to Sunday, but as I've already hinted - real life gets in the way. Monday morning I got up at 4.30am to fly from Dublin to London and headed straight into the office. So I went to Pret on the way to work and grabbed a coconut porridge with seeds. Yummy and filling, great start.
Itsu avocado sushi and veggie dumpling noodles
Nothing pre-prepared I headed out on my lunch break in the hopes of finding something take-away that suited a vegan diet.
My go-to when I have a lunch on my own is Itsu and my usuals are the salmon 3 ways sushi selection or the detox noodles which comes with meaty dumplings. So the vegan challenge made for a refreshing change! I picked up avocado sushi and veggie dumpling udon noodles. Both still really delicious. Itsu actually has a really helpful chart of which of their dishes are vegan here.
(Not-so) vegan cake
Okay so here's where it fell apart a bit on day one... we had a cake bake sale for charity at work. I'd made Natural Born Feeder Virtuous Viscounts (which actually went down surprisingly well!) but of course what I forgot is they have egg on them. Oh and the slice of banana bread I had. So then I sort of gave up and had a chocolate brownie too.... Sorry!!
Butternut squash coconut soup
Time to get cooking. My Planet Organic delivery hadn't arrived yet but Monday's dinner on the meal plan was actually surprisingly simple. A butternut squash coconut soup - I was intrigued that it had so few ingredients.
I shouldn't have worried though - the soup was delicious! I usually add stock to my soups but this recipe was just the coconut milk only and the flavour was really intense and the soup really creamy. Topped with peppery rocket, I served up with some Ener-G rice loaf slices leftover from the yeast free bread reviews I did last month.
Acai smoothie bowl
Not on the meal plan but I had wanted to make an acai smoothie bowl for the lovely Annelina at Food Without Regrets and Xenia of Healthy Handsome Life hashtag party on Instagram #antioxidantsglow. Definitely a vegan friendly recipe, I made the smoothie with acai, almond milk, blackberries, chia seeds and frozen banana. Took a quick photo at home and then bunged in a tupperware to eat at the desk.
Prepped the night before, lunch at the desk was corn pasta (gluten free) and vegan pesto with rocket. This is a meal I fall back on myself quite often anyway, as I have a jar of Sacla Free From pesto in the fridge at home or work. Super simple but really filling.
Starbucks green tea latte
I popped out for a walk at lunch time and to sit in Starbucks with a green tea latte made with coconut milk and write a blog post (this one!). This is my usual order anyway, so no denial here to stay vegan. Again Starbucks have a really helpful chart available online so you get see ingredients in their food and drinks.
I had planned to meet two friends for dinner and I had explained to them I was trying to do a vegan challenge. So I got to pick the restaurant! I went on Time Out and read this article and picked out Bao Fitzrovia as a 'vegan friendly' place to eat, but where my friends could still have meat and fish.
However when I explained to the waitress I was trying to go vegan she said none of the dishes were suitable! Even the mapo aubergine which the Time Out article had identified as the best vegan dish - "oh yeah I read that was vegan too.... I don't think it is though." Oh. Great. Seeing now why eating out as a vegan can be a struggle. Not wanting to go hungry I still had the mapo aubergine (which was amazing), the house salad and the crispy seaweed. Maybe it was vegan. Maybe not. Fail again on Day 2?!
Iswari Banana Bliss Super Oats
My Planet Organic delivery arrived on Tuesday and I lugged it home with me from work. I didn't buy everything on the list (I'll explain more about that in part 2), but there were lots of really exciting new ingredients to try. First up was Iswari Banana Bliss Super Oats. I practically squealed with delight when I discovered Isawri is actually an Irish brand, as I'm moving there in a couple of months. Bettina recommended a portion of 150g which seemed like masses to me, I'd probably go with less next time.
The night before I'd managed to make a small loaf using Amisa Seeded Bread Mix which is gluten, wheat and yeast free! The loaf came out pretty well and was really easy to make (just mix with water and bake for an hour). I'd definitely get it again.
So this sandwich was filled with some of the goodies: as well as cucumber, avocado and red pepper I had Tideford sun-dried tomato pesto and a new one for me vegan 'parmesan' - Nutcrafter Creamery Grated Almond Parmavegan. All really tasty and didn't feel deprived with no egg, butter or meat in there.
Baked sweet potato and vegan slaw
This was a super easy dinner: a baked sweet potato and vegan coleslaw made with red onion, red cabbage, grated apple and vegan mayo. I have to keep forcing myself to remember the seeds and nuts from the meal-plan though - it's not something I'm used to adding to every meal but I suppose makes sense when you aren't getting protein from animal products.
Amisa Four Grain Porridge
No time in the morning for caramelizing a banana like Bettina suggests in the meal-plan, I just made the porridge today (Amisa Four Grain Porridge) with slices of banana and a blob of Meridian smooth almond butter.
Pho Bun nam rom Hue
A friend surprised me asking to have lunch today so the broccoli and courgettes I'd prepared for a salad waited in the fridge at work and we headed to Pho Vietnamese. Their website was very helpful and reassuring that a vegan diet could be catered for and I ordered the Bun nam rom Hue - hot & spicy pho noodle soup with enoki, shiitake & button mushrooms + pak choi in vegetarian broth. I'd normally have a bun noodle dish so this wasn't that different, I'd definitely have it again.
This diary is a bit like a confessional.... I didn't really have dinner Thursday! Just lots of cocktails instead with a friend, eek! Gin, sugar and fizz is definitely vegan I'm sure. I did order a bowl of 'smoked' almonds and then worried because they tasted of smoked bacon! But that's just the smoke... right?
Because I've written such a blimmin' lot I am breaking this review down into two parts. Part 2 is now up - have a read here.
I'd love to hear from you if you're thinking about a vegan diet, or indeed already eat one. What do you think of my diary so far?