Could you eat a plant-based diet for seven days?
This January, Climate Action Lewisham is inviting you to participate in The 7-Day Vegan Challenge. We’ll be zooming cooking tutorials, sharing recipes, following each other’s journeys, comparing bean burgers, plus lots more!
You may be thinking: ugh, no way! Too much to think about / my family have to eat meat / isn’t it just chickpeas and salad…? I felt exactly the same way when my son – an inveterate carnivore – initially proposed it two years ago. The challenge was doing the rounds amongst his favourite You Tubers and alarmingly, my son kept on nagging me.
So this autumn half term, we took the plunge. We are a family of four, two boys aged 10 and 13, consuming a fairly normal omnivore diet – and we completed the challenge! Hopefully the tips and food diary below will reassure you that you can have a go too.
Research the benefits. What changed my mind was learning about the impact of the meat and dairy industry on the environment. Chapter 1 of Mike Berners-Lee’s “There is no Planet B” is an eye-opener. Watching “The Game Changers” turned around my ideas on the pale and wan stereotypes, and on to the health benefits of a plant-based diet. And of course, there’s the ethical argument.
Talk to experienced friends and acquaintances. One vegetarian friend pointed out that Asian recipes are ideal for vegans as dairy isn’t used so much, plus often incorporated spices to counteract any umm…flatulence issues. This was good news for me as I have a Chinese background and love Asian food! Another acquaintance expounded on how good her immune system is since going vegan.
Try out a few recipes. I bought two recipe books, but there’s lots online. Last year I was lucky enough to attend a vegan workshop held by local cook Sonia Heaton from The Green Plate. It was inspiring and delicious. I introduced the odd vegan meal to the family.
Get buy-in. If you’re cooking for others, hopefully you can get their buy-in as faffing around cooking different meals is no fun (well, for lazy cooks like me!) I was lucky the kids were so eager to follow their You Tube idols. Thankfully my husband enjoyed the new meals too.
More research. Is a vegan diet ok for you personally? What about iron, protein, vitamins? If you want to take supplements, be aware that many are not derived from vegan sources.
Meal plan! I ended up with 10 meals I knew everyone would eat. The other meals would either be new or leftovers.
Even more research! Depending on how far you want to take the challenge, a detailed look into ingredients of processed food is very interesting – meat and dairy permeates in many surprising ways. For example, Quorn is vegetarian, but not always vegan. Naan has yoghurt. Even some wine and beer may use animal products in their filtering process. Luckily, there are alternatives available.
Don’t forget the snacks. My personal vegan favourites are Sainsbury’s Bacon Crispies, and Sainsbury’s Apple & Blackcurrant pies!
Breakfast: is easy. Porridge and cereal, with banana. My younger son likes Weetabix’s Chocolate Chip Crispy Minis. They are vegan but made in milk-handling factories. No honey on my porridge, but jam (with pectin not gelatine). We usually drink oat or soya milk so no big change.
Lunch: Falafel, I love falafel. Tortilla wrapped, coconut yoghurt, various veg.
I check our margarine – it has buttermilk in. I need to get a vegan alternative.
Dinner: Miso aubergine with tofu and kale. The recipe is from The Green Roasting Tin. I love this book – great for lazy cooks! We’ve had this before and it’s well liked. I add some leftover butternut squash & lentil dhansak.
Breakfast: the same, in fact I’m so lazy, this isn’t going to change throughout the week.
We pop over to the Horniman Market – I know there’s a van there selling vegan lunches. Their falafel wraps are delicious.
Lunch: It’s a vegan fry up! Vegan sausages made by Richmond, and they are great. It’s a substitute we could make. Even better, my husband prefers the vegan marge to our current one.
Dinner: An easy vegetable curry, using madras paste. We eat this with pitta bread. Nothing spectacular.
We are beginning to feel a little bloated and flatulent. Otherwise, fine: good energy levels, exercising fine, sleeping really well, and unusually, not feeling particularly peckish.
Lunch: vegan pizza. Probably the worst meal. I bought some bases, blended up a tomato spread using a recipe from Bosh!, added some veg and vegan cheese. The grilled vegan cheese is not nice.
Dinner: Redemption! Tofu mushroom balls in tomato sauce and pasta. These are delicious. A bit fiddly (got older son to make the balls) but worth it.
Lunch: shop bought vegetarian spring rolls, noodles. I’m thinking about protein and discover that peas are a good source, so I stir-fry some with garlic, preserved veg and soya sauce. Peas are a big hit.
Dinner: Another recipe from The Green Roasting Tin: sweet potato and mushroom polenta bake. It’s very tasty and very easy. Polenta comes out super crispy.
Flatulence has settled down.
Lunch: left over curry from Day 2, plus potato salad with Hellman’s vegan mayo. The curry tastes ten times better second time round. And the mayo tastes normal!
Dinner: Sweet and sour tofu from Bosh! The kids love it, but it’s fiddly, like many of Bosh’s recipes.
Lunch: fried rice and leftovers. I’ve never put egg in as the kids are allergic. I add soya sauce and gojuchang sauce for extra spice.
Dinner: Mediterranean baked sweet potato with chickpeas, from the Minimalist Baker website, which has some great ideas. Another very easy meal.
I keep the water from the tinned chickpeas and use it instead of egg for vegan banana bran muffins, and I can’t taste the difference!
It’s the last day and the end is in sight.
Lunch: Vegan burger from Sonia Heaton’s The Green Plate Facebook page. I am rubbish at making the patties which end up a crumbled mess. But the taste is amazing, and we have enough for an extra vegan meal tomorrow.
Dinner: Going out with a bang, it’s a vegan lasagne. I’ve never even made ordinary lasagne! It’s a long drawn-out process, involving lumpy ‘bechamel’ sauce and shards of pasta sheets, but finally it’s ready. A success! It’s completely polished off and no vegan cheese in sight!
The 7 Day Vegan Challenge IS a challenge. It requires research, planning and a lot of time in the kitchen. But what I did not foresee was how enthused (and strict!) the kids were sticking to the challenge, how tasty many of the recipes were, and how much we learnt about what goes into our processed food. I was also expecting to feel wan and de-energised, but actually, I felt the same, except I slept incredibly well.
I’m not going fully vegan or even vegetarian … yet. But I am incorporating more vegan and vegetarian meals into our diet, and building up a strong repertoire of go-to recipes. I also want to educate myself about food, especially where it comes from and how it’s grown / bred. And I’ve loved finding alternatives like coconut yoghurt, vegan marge, oat cakes, chickpea water… these are all quick easy substitutes that shave a little more dairy off my diet.
Veganuary is coming up this January. My son – whose only veg intake at one time was baked beans and sweet potatoes – is convinced we can do the whole month and that’s a big ask! But if you fancy dipping your toe into veganism, want a post-Christmas de-tox, or want to have a go at eating with more thought for our planet, why not try The 7-Day Vegan Challenge with Climate Action Lewisham? Start cooking up a few recipes now and watch this space…