Can’t face Veganuary? How about Meat Free-Monday?


A friend asked me to write something about eating less meat/being vegan a few of years ago and as it’s Veganuary I thought I’d share it
here.



It’s that time of year again– “New Year, New You” time, where everywhere you look someone seems to be trying to convince you that you need to make a change to your life. Some of these changes are short term, like Dry January, and some are aimed at longer term goals, such as getting you to sign up to a 12-month contract at your local gym – a relationship that will almost certainly be over by Valentine’s Day. One campaign that falls somewhere in the middle, however, is Veganuary , which aims to get people to go vegan for a month but hopes that they will stick with a plant-based diet long-term.  The problem with all New Year’s resolutions, though, is that they almost inevitably end in failure and one of the main reasons is that they can just seem so bloomin’ overwhelming! It’s easy to avoid this though, by making small, manageable changes instead of overhauling your entire life in one fell swoop – which is where Meat Free Monday comes in.

As the name suggests, Meat Free Monday is about reducing your meat consumption by having at least one meat free day a week. Why on earth would I want to go meat free, I hear you cry? Well, there are lots of reasons. The obvious answer is animal welfare, but when I say it’s the obvious answer, I mean it’s really obvious so I’m not going to go into that here. So, what are the other reasons?

Well, firstly, it’s better for the planet – in fact, studies have shown that reducing your consumption of animal products is the most effective way to reduce your impact on the environment – far better than ditching your car!

Secondly, it’s better for your health – vegetarian and vegan diets have been proven to lower cholesterol which can, in turn, lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  A well-planned plant-based diet can also significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Finally – it can save you money! You may have heard that eating vegan is more expensive but, while it is certainly true that some meat substitutes can cost more than the cheapest meat version, they often fall somewhere in the middle of the price range. Though you don’t need to eat meat substitutes or any special ingredients at all! For example, you can make a great vegan curry by subbing the meat for a can of green lentils, which costs about 50p, or just use extra beans instead of minced beef for a chilli “non-carne”.

So now you might be wondering if there sre there any convincing reasons not to try going meat-free for one day a week? By far the most common reason I hear is that it’s too hard. That might have been the case in the past, but in the last few years it has become so much easier to eat vegan that it’s not difficult at all! To prove it, here are some ideas for some cheap and easy meals to help you plan a meat free day :

Breakfast

  • Peanut butter on toast (if you follow a gluten free diet, check your bread ingredients for egg).
  • Your favourite cereal with plant milk or fruit juice.
  • Overnight oats – there are lots of recipes available online, but this is my favourite – it’s like having chocolate pudding for breakfast!
    • 3 tbsp porridge oats (about 30g)
    • 80ml unsweetened soya milk
    • Half a ripe banana (about 70g)
    • 1tsp cocoa powder
    • 1tsp peanut butter
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

Place the oats in a bowl, along with the soya milk, cover, and pop the bowl into the fridge overnight

In the morning, add the cocoa powder, peanut butter and banana to the bowl and mash with a fork.

This should be sweet enough but if your banana isn’t ripe you can add a little agave or maple syrup to sweeten.  Enjoy!

Lunch

  • Houmous sandwich with grated carrot, peppers and salad leaves
  • Jacket potato with vegetable chilli
  • Chickpea Casserole – this is VERY easy to make! You need
    • 1 can of chickpeas
    • 1 can of ratatouille

Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Put the chickpeas and ratatouille in a pan and heat through.

That’s it – you’re done!

Dinner

  • Vegetable fajitas with vegan yoghurt, salsa and guacamole.
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and vegan meatballs. (Avoid fresh pasta as it usually contains egg).
  • Cottage pie. You can buy a ready made one but it’s easy to make. You’ll need –
  • 1 pack of frozen vegan mince (454g)
    • 1 onion, diced
    • ½ cup frozen peas
    • ½ cup frozen peas
    • 750g peeled chopped potatoes
    • Instant vegetarian gravy – check the labels in your cupboard before you buy some. Some well known instant gravy brands are already vegan.
    • 1tsp vegetable oil.
    • 100ml soya milk
    • 1 tsp vegan spread
    • Nutritional yeast (optional)
    • Salt and pepper.

This will serve 4 and I make mine in an 8” by 6” Pyrex dish.

Pre heat your oven to gas mark 7 / 220° C (200° C for fan ovens)

First, bring the potatoes to boil then reduce heat and leave to simmer.

Whilst they are cooking, heat 1tsp of oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion over a medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add the mince and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the peas and sweetcorn and cook for another 2/3 minutes

Make up about 300ml of gravy, following manufacturer’s instructions.

Take mince off the heat and put to one side.

After checking the potatoes are cooked, drain the water and transfer back to the saucepan. Add the soya milk and vegan spread and mash the potatoes until smooth. You can also add the nutritional yeast at this point. It adds a slightly cheesy flavour and is a good vegan source of vitamin B12 but if you don’t want to buy any special vegan ingredients it’s fine to leave it out.  Season to taste.

Transfer the mince to the oven dish.

Pour the gravy evenly over the mince and mix with a fork if necessary.

Spread the mash evenly over the top of the mince, ensuring that it reaches the edges of the dish.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

Heat the cottage pie in the middle of the oven until the mash browns slightly (if you use a glass dish look for the gravy bubbling).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png

Hopefully, these suggestions show that it really is a piece of cake to eat vegan for a day, and there are plenty of other ways too. You could add a couple of Quorn or Linda McCartney products to your trolley and not notice a difference in flavour or the price of your weekly shop, and if you want to eat out there is more choice than ever. Starbucks and Costa both have a choice of plant milks for you experiment with, as well as a growing selection of vegan food options. All the major high street restaurant chains have vegan options and many even have entire vegan menus. Veganuary is a great time to try them out too, as there are a lot of special offers around to tempt you through the doors. Even Greggs are getting in on it, by releasing their vegan sausage roll this week in a flurry of publicity*. So, I guess the only question left when it comes to eating less meat is – what’s stopping you?

*Obviously, this is out of date now but Greggs are still releasing new vegan products, and there is more choice in shops and restaurants than ever. I even saw this week that Wagamama are bringing out their version of vegan fish and chips!

Size is just a number*

*Or several different numbers, as the case may be.

The sun has appeared in the sky today, for the first time in what seems like forever. This is very exciting news! Now, I know we’ve been allowed to go out for a little while now but, to be honest, most days, I haven’t really got anywhere to go. I’m happy pottering about at home most of the time, but not even being able to sit in the garden for most of the month of May has been pretty depressing, even by British standards. So, imagine my delight when Alexa informed me that it was going to be a balmy 17oC today! This did present me with a bit of a dilemma though, as I have *ahem* “outgrown” all of my summer trousers during lockdown and have been wearing stretchy joggers most days. Luckily, I had to pop to Morrisons to pick up some stamps so I grabbed a pair of navy blue linen trousers whilst I was there. When I got home I delved into my wardrobe for a top to go with them and this is where things got interesting (or ridiculous, depending in your point of view).

One outfit, three sizes.

I stood in front of the mirror and realised that the top I was wearing was a size 8 while the trousers I’d just bought were a size 16! A quick check of my crop top/ sports bra revealed that it was a size 20-22! How on Earth could size 22 boobs fit into a size 8 top? Because women’s clothes sizes make no sense, that’s why! When you check the size guide of any given brand (usually available on their websites – good luck finding one instore!) the measurements are given for the bust, waist and hips, so they know what the measurements of the garments are. Why can’t they put them on the labels? We all know which areas of are bodies can cause problems when clothes shopping. For me, it’s my waist as I put all my weight on round my middle. My life would be so much easier if I could reliably shop for jeans by waist size. My husband can. He can go online, filter by waist and inside leg and know that when the jeans arrive, they will fit him perfectly – regardless of where he buys them from. Why are women still put through the ordeal of taking off their perfectly fitting size 12 jeans to try on a different pair of size 12 jeans, only to find they can’t do them up? How difficult can it possibly be to put the measurements on the labels and let us make an informed decision instead of playing the shopping equivalent of Russian roulette every time we need to buy something? No wonder women spend so much longer trying on clothes than men! We have so much less information to go on!

If you find yourself worrying about the numbers on the labels inside your clothes, my advice to you is to just cut them out. Buy clothes that make you feel good and get rid of number that makes you feel bad. Or you could do what I do, and make some of your own clothes – no labels required! If you are trying to get fit or lose weight, I’m not saying you should stop. There are other far more important numbers to worry about though- how many flights of stairs can I manage now? How long did I manage to exercise for today? How many of my five-a-day did I eat? Try and improve those numbers and your health will improve too. By all means, keep track of your waist size if you want to. Waist size is an important indicator of potential risks to your health, after all. Just make sure you use a tape measure and not some arbitrary sizing system that varies wildly from retailer to retailer. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.

What the heck is a “macro” anyway?

If you have tried to lose weight, get fit, or even just read an article in a magazine recently, there’s a good chance you will have heard of “macros”. Everyone talks about “counting their macros” nowadays, but do you know what they are?

It’s quite simple really. “Macros” is short for macronutrients. That might not help much but it just means the nutrients that we need to consume in large amounts, i.e, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. (as opposed to micronutrients – nutrients we need to eat in small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals).

The average person (not on a special diet due to a medical condition) should aim to get 50-55% of their calories (kcals) from carbohydrates, 30-35% from fats and 10-15% from proteins. You can manually work all this out if you are tracking your food intake – carbohydrates and proteins provide 4kcals per gram whilst fats provide 9kcals per gram. However, it’s a lot easier to use a free app such as myfitnesspal, which also calculates roughly how many calories you should be eating a day (though I will do a post about that later – I want to focus on food quality rather than quantity for now) . If you read my previous post about having a balanced diet and want to start making some adjustments, you might find it helpful to start tracking your food to see where your intake is at the moment. If your macronutrient percentages are roughly okay, then have a look at the foods that make up those numbers and see if there are any healthy swaps you can make e.g, swap white starchy carbohydrates for wholegrain versions. If not, try and reduce things you are having too much of – maybe grill or bake instead of fry to reduce fat – and increase your intake in areas where you are lacking. If you stick to the recommendations in the Eatwell guide your macros can’t go far wrong! I’ve highlighted which foods are good sources of which macros below, but please contact me if you have any questions.

Proteins.

Practically everything has some protein in it. The best sources are eggs, dairy, meat and soya bean, with lentils, chickpeas and wheat not far behind. Proteins are made up of amino acids and there are 9 amino acids we need to eat every day. Animal protein and soya beans contain all of these essential amino acids but if you eat a good variety of foods, you can get all the amino acids you need from other sources.

Fats.

As well making up the bulk of most spreads and oils, fats are also present within foods such as meat, cheese, nuts and seeds, and are added to processed foods such as chocolate and crisps. If you need to reduce your fat intake, try and reduce fats from the sources outside the Eatwell plate (processed foods) rather than cutting down on healthy fats or foods that provide other important nutrients, such as dairy and nuts.

Carbohydrates.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, but you should aim for the bulk of your carbohydrates to be from starchy foods, and ideally from wholegrain sources such as wholemeal bread and brown rice. Fruits and vegetables are also a source of carbohydrate and you should aim to eat at least 5 portions a day. Obviously, fruit is sweet. This is because it contains natural sugar. Unless you are diabetic though, (in which case you need more specialist advice) don’t worry about that too much for now. Get in the habit of choosing healthy snacks first, and we’ll worry about tweaks later. Fruit and veg contain other nutrients and fibre, and will always be a better choice than an unhealthy snack.

So, that’s the gist of “macros”. You can count them if you want to, and if you’ve been advised to eat specific amounts of one or more of them, you might want to get an app to make your life easier. However, you don’t have to. If you want to improve your diet trying to eat in line with the Eatwell Guide is a great start – and there is no maths needed!

I’ll be doing future posts about each of the macronutrients – which one are you most interested to hear about? Let me know below and I’ll do that first!

A Balanced Diet

You’ve probably heard the term “balanced diet” a million times, but do you know what it really means? There are lots of different definitions out there, but, basically, it means eating a variety of food which gives you all the nutrients you require to stay healthy whilst providing the right amount of energy for your needs . As we are all different, a balanced diet won’t look the same for everyone. Our bodies vary a lot, not only size and shape, but in how they process food and cope with exercise, and our tastes vary wildly too. This will sound obvious, but If you want to make any changes to your diet – either to lose or gain weight, or to try and eat more healthily, it’s important to make sure you eat foods you ENJOY! What I really want to do is to help people understand what it is that they are eating so the can not only make any changes that they need to, but to understand WHY they are making them.

An easy way to see what your diet should look like is to check out the Eatwell Guide

The Eatwell Plate

If you would like to read more about the Eatwell Guide you can do so here

As you can see, the bulk of your diet should be made up of wholegrain or fibre-rich starchy foods and fruit and vegetables, with a smaller proportion made up of protein based foods, and dairy (and dairy alternative) products. Fats and oils should be limited and highly processed foods like crisps and chocolate are shown outside the plate to indicate that they should only be eaten occasionally. I will be sticking broadly to these guidelines so if you’re looking for the latest fad diet, this isn’t the site for you!

In future posts I will talk about the different food groups shown above in more detail, explain the different macro- and micronutrients needed as well as energy requirements for different groups and any other topics that come to mind. This is a very quick intro as I am pretty busy studying for my Level 4 qualification but if you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, please get in touch via my facebook or instagram pages. Thanks for visiting my page!