Veggie Update # 5: The Reality Edition

Our household became vegetarian on June 1 and it’s a part of our life now. The way we eat isn’t an experiment any more; it feels permanent.

For anyone new to the blog, we are a couple, with no kids in the house, and I have taken to calling our eating plan Vegetarian at Home.  The reasons we went veggie were:

  • Less impact on the environment
  • Don’t like supporting the conventional meat industry
  • Don’t like shopping for, storing, and cooking meat

We are not entirely opposed to eating meat, and could defend a diet based on local, free-range, organic and grass-fed meats, wild meats and fish. I have respect for people who raise, catch, butcher, and store their own meat and fish, but I don’t see myself doing it. Has anyone seen the film Animals: Friend or Food? The filmmaker made the argument that anyone who eats meat should be willing to raise and slaughter their own, so he tried it. What an eye opener! (You can watch it from the link above – depending on your country, I suppose).

We have numerous family members who do raise animals and/or hunt and fish, so we eat meat when we are invited to their homes. When we started out, we gave ourselves a “pass” so that we could eat meat at restaurants, but we only took advantage of that once before deciding we weren’t interested.

Our basic rule is that we make all our own vegetarian meals from scratch, with no meat substitutes, and we both take homemade lunches to work every day. We are not vegan – we have dairy products, eggs and honey.

Since returning from vacation at the end of August, I’ve really buckled down at work, and I’ve had less time to grocery shop and cook. The big consequence is that I ran out of time for baking bread and muffins, and I really miss them! My work includes evenings and weekends, so I can’t “catch up.” My schedule should ease up in November, so I look forward to baking again. I’d better stockpile some in the freezer so I don’t feel so deprived the next time I am swamped.

I also used to make soup several times a month, and I haven’t made any for about 6 weeks, so I am fed up with my boring lunches! I now understand better when people say they can’t possibly cook meals after work because they are “too tired.” I’ve rallied enough to make proper meals, but no extras. When we started meal planning, Rom made about 4 dinners each month. Now he does 4 meals that last for 2 nights each, so that gives me more nights off.

A typical week has gone like this:

Breakfast – I have cereal or oatmeal with milk. Rom has English muffins or crumpets.

Snacks – I have a second breakfast when I get to work. If no homemade muffins or granola, I have toast and fruit. Rom has ice cream every night, and an extra bowl of cereal. I eat some candy most days.

Lunch – If no homemade soup and bread, I alternate among big salads with cheese and nuts, avocado and tomato sandwiches, hummus and pita bread, or rice n’ beans. I also have yogurt every day, and raw vegetables. Rom has various breads, crackers, cheese and dried fruit.

Chick pea and veg curry

Dinners – Here’s what a couple of weeks looked like:

Week 1:

  • Monday – Lentil shepherd’s pie
  • Tuesday – leftover lentil shepherd’s pie
  • Wednesday – chick pea and veg curry over brown rice
  • Thursday – leftover chick pea and veg curry over couscous
  • Friday – veg pizza
  • Saturday – whole wheat pasta primavera
  • Sunday – dinner at parents’ house – example: roast chicken dinner

Week 2:

  • Monday – Peanut butter veg stew
  • Tuesday – leftover peanut butter veg stew
  • Wednesday – Sweet potato and black bean chili
  • Thursday – leftover sweet potato and black bean chili
  • Friday – Stuffed peppers made with lentils and rice
  • Saturday – Veg frittata (eggs)
  • Sunday – dinner at parents’ house – example: spaghetti with meat sauce

One dramatic change I’ve seen is that my weight has completely stabilized since I’ve been eating vegetarian. I lost a couple of pounds, and my weight stays the same virtually all the time. When I am busy I have to make a point of eating more so I don’t lose. I don’t want to fill up on chips, peanuts and sweets. But if I don’t, how much fruit, vegetables, beans and yogurt can I possibly eat in a day? Some days I’ve had enough, and I just stop eating and do something else. What a concept!

Here I’ll mention the main limitation I’ve found: despite the seeming infinite variety of vegetarian dishes, vegetarians are working from a more restricted ingredient list. Some flavours and textures are simply off-limits. I suppose I could buy “mock” versions of meat products to compensate, but I genuinely want to avoid processed foods like TVP. Every once in a while I miss a flavour that is associated with meat, such as beef bourguignon. I suppose there is mushroom bourguignon?

On the other hand, all healthy diets are restricted: from junk foods and processed foods, anyway. Eating vegetarian has made that easier for me by “forcing” me to work inside some basic food rules, giving up some choices in exchange for a better sense of well-being.

I am somewhat concerned about becoming “run down” as a result of overwork and lower protein and iron, so I am being conscientious. All vegetarian and vegan guides claim that we don’t need as much protein as we think, and that it is abundant in grains, legumes and vegetables. But I have been living on about 75% of my former protein intake, and I think it is starting to catch up with me. I am not on a low-calorie diet, either – in fact, at 2400 calories a day, I eat more than just about anyone I know!

So, in conclusion:

  • Preparing healthy, homemade food (vegetarian or not) takes more time than using prepared foods, so more resolve is needed to stay on track – versus either cheating or giving up entirely
  • Vegetarian meals eliminate some meal options (obviously, meat and fish) so more motivation is needed to either keep trying new recipes, or repeat favourite meals more often. Then again, most families have a regular rotation of the same meals, anyway!
  • We are saving about 15% on groceries. I thought it would be more, but we are buying fresh, good quality ingredients all the time now.
  • I have found that eating a wide variety of vegetarian foods is not sufficient for health – I really do have to pay attention to protein and iron intake.
  • I haven’t had to worry about the massive western Canadian beef recall (although you never know when the next spinach recall might happen).
  • Weight maintenance is way easier!

And finally – I feel like I am living a little lighter on the earth!

10 comments

  1. Our family does eat some meat, but we tend more for vegetarian entrees. The rest of the family has dairy, but I can’t. My iron and B-12 levels have been consistently low for a while now — I was feeling “run down” a lot. I recently began taking B-12 drops and that has helped tremendously. It might not be just watching your iron and protein, but maybe B-12 as well.
    And make sure to give your dried legumes a long soak, to reduce the phytic acid levels, so that the iron and other minerals are not bound. I’m doing some reading on phytates and whole grains, nuts and seeds, too, right now. Soon, I’ll be posting some information on best cooking techniques for these foods, to maximize nutrient absorption.
    Good luck!

    • anexactinglife

      I was just reading your post about soaking beans and will definitely switch methods! Our milk here is fortified with 45% of daily B12 per cup; I hope I’m not ODing on it 🙂

  2. SarahN

    Still awaiting the spinach recall (gosh you make me chuckle!) I think the biggest reason I don’t embrace vegetarianism more is the iron/protein problem. I’m notorious for low iron (so much so the blood bank once rejected me, so I sit in fear til they check my heamaglobin now – I was at least 15 points over the minimum on Friday, yay!) The other thing that presents challenges is that I like to limit wheat and to a lesser extent dairy, combine that with vegetarianism, and well, the limitations mount up. So now, I think of it more as a preference for lower on those three fronts, but sometimes something gives, and I just live with it!

    • anexactinglife

      Would you believe, I was not even joking about the spinach recalls. There have been loads of them in North America. The spinach fields get contaminated by runoff from nearby cattle farms. People have died from E. coli from spinach.

      If I had any intolerances for gluten or lactose, I would definitely want to keep my options open!

      • SarahN

        Actually as I typed I thought ‘I bet this might be true’ still… no cows, there’d be no probs with the spinach… so down with the cows? (I’m not anti cow at all… just seeing ‘black and white’)

      • anexactinglife

        Yep, animal industry spill-over.

  3. Great post! You’re inspiring me to keep trying.

  4. Great post! I went vegetarian after I realized that I was forcing myself to eat meat to keep my boyfriend happy. Then his doctor told him to back off a bit on the meat and processed stuff, so he has semi-joined me.

    I don’t eat any fake meat. I don’t understand that whole idea. I don’t miss meat at all, but, if I did, I would just eat some once in a while. There’s no law and I made my own rules, so I can break them any time I want.

    I definitely can’t eat wheat, though, because I have Celiac. Restaurants can sometimes be tricky — they just don’t get gluten-free vegetarian — but I have no problems at home. Actually, it was the Celiac diagnosis that really got me into learning more and more about eating healthy. I have learned my way around gluten-free eating and enjoy the challenge of finding yet another wonderful, healthy, tasty, gluten-free vegetarian meal to add to my repertoire.

    One last point… the contamination to the spinach is not run-off from nearby cows. The farmers pay dairies and feed lots, who always look for ways to get rid of manure, to spread it on their fields as fertilizer. My ex and I had a dairy; he still has it — I now use soy milk.

    • Hi Kathy, I didn’t know that spinach contamination was directly from manure, thanks for the info! I’m with you in that I am making up my own rules for vegetarianism – I do consider myself lucky not to have allergies and intolerances. One of the things I find hardest is defending my practices to vegans who believe that all vegetarians should go further in stopping animal suffering. I am at a point where I feel I am reducing my impact on the environment, and have found a diet I can live with long term (I hope).

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