This year, I want to challenge myself more – particularly when it comes to my health goals, so I decided to try going meat-free during March. I’ve heard of ‘meat-free Monday’ and I’m fairly certain I’ve heard of meat-free March (I’m sure I didn’t just make this up) so here’s a snapshot into my meat-free month.
I’ve contemplated vegetarianism on and off for many years now. Generally speaking, I don’t eat loads of meat, especially red meat, and I don’t really eat much fish or seafood. Actually, no seafood. So I didn’t necessarily expect that to be hard. I suspected the challenge for me would be whether I’d be able to get enough protein and vitamins from a non-meat diet.
Especially as the idea of a plant-based diet appealed to me more than eating meat alternatives that are designed to look like meat. My logic is this: why would I want to eat something designed to replicate the look/texture/taste of meat – surely it’d be easier to just eat meat?
When I first started formulating an idea around this challenge, and before I’d decided what kind of vegetarian I wanted to be (a plant-based vegetarian), I acknowledged part of me would like to write ‘as this is my first committed forray into vegetarianism, I want to be open minded to meat substitutes e.g. Quorn’.
Particularly after getting advice from a vegetarian at work who said they eat quorn to get the majority of their protein. However, as per my earlier paragraph, I’m just not sure about products that are meant to look like meat but aren’t meat (have you seen facon – fake bacon – in the supermarket?! It doesn’t appeal to me whatsoever). I know this is narrow minded, but to reiterate: If I want to eat meat, I’ll eat meat.
What actually happened:
I guess the big question is: did I do it? Did I survive the whole month of March without meat?
Well, I didn’t eat any meat but I did accidentally eat fish once, which really annoyed me. It wasn’t fish disguised as something else, it was a piece of fish, I just totally forgot myself. Also, I ate quite a lot of gummy sweets this month, which are not vegetarian 😦 but I’m not sure if that 100% counts. I think it depends on how strict you want to be.
This leads me on to my next point: aside from gummy sweets not being veggie, which I should have realised earlier, I was surprised to learn that Parmesan isn’t suitable for vegetarians! I’ve heard this before but had to remember when I went out for pasta. Also, if you want to know why it’s not vegetarian, feel free to Google BUT I warn you, you may not want to eat it again (I don’t…).
Aside from this, I actually didn’t find the challenge too hard and really enjoying finding new meat-free alternatives. I definitely think I struggled to get all of my nutrients at times though, particularly protein, which is what I suspected. I know being a plant-based vegetarian is cheaper than buying meat, however, I think natural protein is quite expensive (this is just my opinion and I’m on a budget).
Here are some of my favourite recipes from the month. Some of them are dishes that I made prior to the challenge, but became staples during the month.
5 bean and lentil chilli – I haven’t necessarily stuck to this recipe 100%, I’ve actually just been using a meat-based recipe but I’ve been swapping out the beef for red lentils and mixed beans. My one tip would be to not cook the lentils in advance of adding them to the chilli. During my very first attempt, I pre-cooked the lentils (for the recommended time according to the pack) but they turned to mush.
Lentil cottage pie – This recipe is tried and tested and a firm favourite!
The Gosh! Free from range has been fantastic. Okay, so sure, I probably could make my own versions of these products, but for convenience and to save buying loads of ingredients for one recipe, I really love this range. I tried four different items from it, and now have two clear favourites (see number 2 and number 3 below) but I did like all of the ones I tried. As the products appear in the image, here are a few recipes I enjoyed:
- Mushroom, puy lentil, and butter bean burgers – I enjoyed this with roasted new potatoes, feta, and salad.
- Mixed seed, quinoa, carrot and coriander bakes – I liked this as a meat-alternative for my Sunday roast.
- Chickpea, courgette and Moroccan spiced bakes – I loved this with either fried or poached eggs, kale, and hot sauce.
- Sweetcorn and quinoa bites with harissa and paprika – I enjoyed this with kale and roasted sweet potato.
- Eating out: I was surprised by how hard it was to eat out being a veggie, some places were great and had loads of options, but this varied greatly. I went to Kilkenny for the weekend and really struggled as some places literally had one veggie option and it was say, an omelette. It made me realise how challenging being vegan must be, especially outside of big cities like London, which arguably cater to everyone’s tastes, but when you’re out in the country and away from everything it can be tricky.
- I didn’t eat enough protein: something I thought might happen, and could’ve been avoided if I had invested more in Greek yoghurt or nuts. I know I didn’t eat enough protein because I’m tracking what I eat via MyFitnessPal. Part of me thinks I should have done more research into protein sources, but part of me also enjoys this new wave of research that suggests we are all eating too much protein these days anyway, even though I understand it’s super helpful when trying to lose weight.
- Eating carbs – someone said to me: ‘but how do you eat protein if you’re veggie, surely you just end up eating loads of carbs?’ And on reflection, I think my carb intake did go up a bit, but meal prep would have helped me to avoid this.
- Eating with non-veggie family members (aka my whole family). So generally we cook our own food anyway, but for the more traditionalists in my family, it was quite hard to eat together during the month, particularly as this is kind of a regular occurrence and when it’s after work, there isn’t time to cook a tasty veggie meal from scratch (though I did usually end up taking my own food with me).
- My nails definitely suffered, but this seems to be cyclical because it was happening before meat-free March anyway and is perhaps a reflection of my dietary inconsistencies. Aside from that, I didn’t notice any detrimental health side effects.
- (Surprisingly) I didn’t miss chicken: I was really surprised that I didn’t miss chicken, partly because if you had asked me in January or February, I would’ve said it was my favourite meat to eat. Weirdly I had cravings for beef and steak, which is totally unlike me as I rarely eat red meat anyway and I haven’t actually had steak since the challenge finished.
- I guess the ultimate question is: will I carry on? To be honest, I toyed with the idea for a while and have eaten very little meat during the month of April, however, I have eaten it. I think I could be a vegetarian fairly easily, but I would seriously have to up my protein game and I’d have to work out how to still eat with my family but eat my own thing. One thing is definite: I haven’t bought any meat for myself this month, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.