Vegetarianuary: Reflections

The end of January 2021 merely signalled the continuation of further cold, rainy weather and time stuck indoors. But the days are getting longer and lighter, and for those of us who took a January challenge, it likely means another thing –

Hello again, meat.

I thought it might be useful for some fellow omnivores with a conscience if I reflected on a brief switch to vegetarian, and I bring glad tidings…

It’s not bad!

What we learned from eating vegetarian

Homemade Lentil Bolognese
Lentil Bolognese

We genuinely enjoyed this experiment. Meal plans and food shops have become exciting again, and in some ways easier. I think it’s like poetry for me (and indeed like most things in life) in that constraints offer a clearer decisions than complete free reign.

This challenge gave us the push to try new recipes and new products we maybe wouldn’t have tried before, so we found several new foods we like and only a few that we didn’t.

Here are some of the surprising things we learned:

  • it was easier than expected – few meals we wanted were off limits.
  • we never felt exhausted from our diet or that we were lacking protein.
  • I weighed about the same as a vegetarian as I did when eating meat.
  • looking into ingredients and what we’re eating is worth the time.
  • It’s not all pulses and mushrooms – there’s so much more flavour.
  • Tofu can actually be alright.
  • We didn’t really miss meat at all – only specific meaty meals.

Thoughts on meat alternatives

We tried numerous meat alternatives and weren’t convinced by many of them. Neither chicken nor bacon substitutes live up to the meats they’re supposed to replace quite like the burger alternatives do, but they are making steady progress. The texture of both is good – the taste, not so much.

After trying jackfruit properly for the first time we’re still not quite sure about it. The texture was great – almost like pulled pork – but the weirdly sweet aftertaste didn’t quite do it for us.

We’d already tried tofu prior to this challenge, but we were on the fence. Now that we’ve cooked it in multiple ways and tried different tofu products (turns out they have different textures), we’ve found the best tofu brand for us: Tofoo.

We also found a way to enjoy silken tofu: by breading and frying it. There’s more experimenting for us to do with tofu yet. Don’t give up on it after the first try: you just need to find a good brand and a good way of using it.

Plant mince chilli

Despite finding some good meat subs, there are some meals like spaghetti Bolognese – a staple in our house – can’t go meat-free for us yet.

We tried lentil Bolognese, which was really tasty in its own right, but won’t be chosen over the OG spag bol. It’s mostly about the additional flavour to sauces that meat brings while cooking, as well as the texture. It’s not about it being beef that’s important. In fact, we’ll probably switch to pork mince, as it’s better for the environment.

However, plant-based mince has also come a long way since those weird Quorn pellets that turned to mush. We tried Naked Glory plant mince, and although it’s still not quite good enough to make a permanent switch, the consistency has definitely improved.

Meals

Here are the meals we ate during January, planned a week at a time. Some were from recipes (provided), the others we made ad lib.

Breakfasts

Planning breakfasts was easy, especially when you work from home. It’s rare that we have fry-ups or bacon sandwiches for breakfast anyway, so this didn’t change much:

  • Cereal
  • Jam on toast
  • Croissants
  • Pain au chocolat
  • Porridge with cinnamon and apple
  • Porridge with banana

Lunches

Lunches were by far the hardest for us to plan – it feels like there are few sandwich options that don’t require meat. The only one we could think of – egg and cress – isn’t my kinda thing.

Gochujang marinated tofu with rice and broccoli
Gochujang marinated tofu

Nevertheless, we found 31 days worth of lunches:

  • Gochujang tofu with rice and broccoli recipe here
  • Mango chutney Quorn pieces with minty couscous
  • Tesco’s sundried tomato soup (don’t recommend)
  • Leek and potato soup
  • Tesco’s garden veg soup (the worst)
  • Nut roast (left over from previous dinner) in pita bread with tzatziki and tomatoes
  • Falafel pita breads
  • Cheese toasties
  • Cheese on toast
  • Egg and cress sandwiches
  • Jacket potato with cheese and beans
  • Spaghetti on toast
  • Ready to cook aubergine or butternut squash tortellini
  • Pesto pasta
  • Aglio e olio pastarecipe here
  • Toasted ciabatta with homemade tomato and pine nut sauce
  • A ‘pokebowl’ with tofu, mango, coconut rice and pickled cucumber
  • Black bean quesadilla orzotto – (we forgot to buy wraps for quesadillas and accidentally made a nice pasta dish instead)
  • Leftover chilli.

Dinners

Dinners were fun to plan and we split them into a couple of categories: veggie meals we’d had before and knew we liked, brand new recipes we wanted to try, and everyday meals with meat substitutes. This helped to avoid a full week of meals we might end up not liking.

Any meals below that are marked with an asterisk we really do recommend trying:

  • Mac and cheese
  • *Beyond veggie burgers with homemade wedges
  • Beyond hot dogs with homemade wedges
  • Veggie pizza
  • BBQ pulled jackfruit nachos
  • Naked Glory plant mince chilli with corn wraps/jacket potato
  • *Miso mushroom tacosaubergine taco recipe here
  • Nut roast and dauphinoise potatoesNut roast recipe here, although we thought it was loads better with gravy than with the tomato sauce
  • Carbonara (without meat)
  • *Lentil Bolognese recipe here
  • *Caprese pasta bake recipe here
  • *Lemon and white wine risottorecipe here (originally meant for arancini, but we liked the risotto on its own too).
  • *Vegetable laksa recipe here
  • Stir fry with Linda McCartney’s shredded ‘duck’product here
  • Crispy mushroom pancakes (duck substitute) recipe here
  • *Tofu katsu curry – we used Tofoo crispy bites for a quick meal
  • *’Chicken’ and cauliflower Kerelan curry – we used the Mowgli House curry recipe
  • *Slow cooked ratatouille with lemon and ricotta dumplings recipe here
  • Cardamom fried tofu with lime greens and rice – from the Ottolenghi recipe book. The greens were the best bit, but this was our first time being impressed by silken tofu too
  • *Tunisian chickpea stew recipe here.

Snacks and desserts

Snacking was very easy – we very rarely found anything we wanted to snack on that we couldn’t during the month:

Cost

Our average food shop during our meat-eating days is around £70-80 for the week.

Shopping vegetarian was unsurprisingly cheaper – where meat can set you back anywhere between £2-5 on average per pack, meat subs were often comparably priced or cheaper, and vegetable-led meals cost just a fraction of the price of meat.

Here’s an approximation of how much we spent each week in January for two people, excluding the odd bottle of alcohol or tube of toothpaste that we don’t buy every week:

  • Week one: £48.50
  • Week two: £56.50
  • Week three: £56.80
  • Week four: £47

Final thoughts

Will we continue being full-time vegetarian? No.

Will we continue eating veggie meals regularly? Hell yeah.

Challenging yourself with what you eat is exciting. It’s a great way to find new recipes and new flavours you enjoy, affirm the foods you don’t enjoy, and is ultimately a good thing for the environment. So why wouldn’t you give it a go?

Have any of you tried Veganuary, Vegetarianuary, or reducing the amount of meat in your diet? How have you found the experience? What are your favourite recipes? Share them in the comments below!

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