Student changes from vegetarian to vegan diet for lent

Two weeks into being Vegan, and I’m not yet stifled by a £100 shopping list or sat eating a salad at my favourite restaurant. In fact, changing from a vegetarian to a vegan diet hasn’t really been the whirl wind change of lifestyle I imagined.

Having always wanted to take the plunge in to veganism, particularly after watching Cowspiracy, it took the spur of lent for me to finally commit.

Preparation

As excited as I was to finally try the new diet, I did my research beforehand to make sure it wouldn’t strike midnight on the 1st March and I’d be sat looking at empty cupboards terrified about my decision. I looked at how I could easily swap my favourite meals to vegan (I should also point out at this point I am not the finest cook, nor am I a lover of a lot of variation or intricate recipes) and looked at supermarkets online to see what types of alternatives they offer.

For example, I quickly realised I would be able to replace my favourite plain yoghurt for Alpo soya yoghurt which meant my usual snack of yoghurt with nuts would still be okay, without any dramatic changes!

TIP: DON’T LOOK TO REPLACE THE MEALS YOU KNOW AND LOVE… SIMPLY LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVE PRODUCTS TO SUBSTITUTE THE NON-VEGAN PRODUCTS.

However, the greatest preparation was talking to vegans.

You’ll be surprised at how many people around you are vegan or eat vegan meals without even trying. My biggest fear was knowing what foods I COULD eat… as through doing my research I noticed a lot of products didn’t have ‘Vegan’ written on them (and as a student I really wasn’t up for complicating my life further). Which leads me on to the biggest tip a woman ever gave me (which I will gracefully pass down the chain):

“On the ingredients section of packets, anything Dairy will be in bold (e.g. “milk” “eggs”) as they have to cater for dairy allergies. So just scan for that and if there isn’t any dairy products in bold, it’s vegan!”

Amen, to freedom of speech!

Supermarkets and food stores have honestly been such an ease with this tip. I recently popped in to a local food store to grab some dinner and, although a lot of things did have milk or eggs in, it made my search SO much quicker! … life saver!

Also- Instagram, Instagram, Instagram! I print screened the following easy recipe ideas and snacks before starting to make me realise how simple the diet could be.

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Crunch time

Day 1, and with my new found knowledge of how to look for vegan products, I took to Sainsbury’s to complete my first vegan shop (did you know oreos are vegan??). And the simple truth is… not a lot changed from my usual shop.

Turns out my usual breakfast protein shake… was already vegan! (apart from the whey protein powder which I swapped for a soy protein powder in advance). As a commuting student, I swear by my yummy breakfast shakes (recipe and video coming soon!) which includes porridge to act as a nutritional breakfast on the go. So, breakfast was a big vegan tick, with almond milk, peanut butter, porridge , coffee and Walden Farm sauces all proving to be 100% vegan. (Stating coffee may sound ridiculous but there is an initial panic for people to check EVERYTHING they eat, before you realise.. it really is easier than you expect).

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Vegan Protein Shake

 

As stated, I really am one for simplicity, particularly due to a tight budget (being a student in London can have its downside…) so lunch was where I thought I’d struggle the most. I thought my love for boiled eggs would be the largest struggle as I always need a filling lunch to keep me energised for a full day at university and the gym. Once again my initial panic saw me sit starving, eating my usual lunch of pitta, avocado, quorn ham and eggs merely without the filling ham or eggs.  But Sainsbury’s Quorn vegan chicken chunks have become my new best friend. Here’s my trusted lunch that will keep you feeling full all day!  (It works great in a lunchbox too!)

Again, dinner remained as simple as can be. My basic student meals (chilli, mince and onions, spag bowl) remained possible with one simple swap from Quorn mince (The Quorn brand include egg whites in most of their meat-free range) to Sainsbury’s own mince. Asda’s own soy mince is also vegan and so are most supermarkets non-meat alternatives – cheaper than Quorn and vegan too! To try my yummy risotto, find the recipe here or keep a look out on The Vegan Sphere to learn how to make your pennies stretch with my cheap bulk cooked meal coming soon (yes I really don’t like cooking more than once a week- amen to freezers!).

When it comes to snacks I’ve probably eaten a broader range than I ever did before. Searching the supermarket shelves I was shocked at what snacks I never knew were vegan. There honestly is such a broad choice, even up to protein bars such as Trek Bars which are 100% vegan!

In other words, if you’re worried about people who say: “vegan is more expensive”, “Vegan meals require so much more work”, “It’s effort being vegan” … don’t be. With a few simple swaps I’ve enjoyed EXACTLY the same meals I would have eaten with a simple change of brand or simple alternative… I just wish someone explained the ease of it to me before!

Eating Out

Now this is the part most people  would steer you to avoid, particularly at the start of your journey. But rather unfortunately, I happened to have more events planned in the last couple of weeks which required meals out than I’ve probably had in the last 3 months.

So how was it? …

Easier than expected.

I instantly learned to phrase my request as dairy free (less comments, less confusion, less judgement) and so to the ravenous meat-eating waiter, I could have simply been a poor women stuck with a dairy allergy- (trust me it avoids any confusion with people not understanding what “vegans” eat).

My first experience was at a spa which didn’t offer any vegan options on the menu. However, trying not to be too awkward, I simply said I’d have the tomato and cheese pasta without the cheese. To my delight, the restaurant workers were over-enthused to throw me  together something off the menu and the chef offered to chuck in vegetables and spices. Their reaction to what I felt as an awkward ask was overwhelming and the meal was delicious! (I actually looked over at the cheese pasta it was supposed to be and mine looked far nicer!). First meal out = success.

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Adapted “Rigatoni ricotta e pomodoro” at Royal Retreat Spa, Hotel and Health Club

 

Pubs: In my experience and through conversations with other vegans, pubs tend to be the hardest meal out to conquer. But again, you’d be surprised at how willing they are to work with requests! Side dishes will most likely become your best friends and there will always be something you can eat (maybe leave your fussy hat at home for pubs). I asked for a random mix of chips, colourful vegetables and beans on to one plate from a mixture of the sides and it worked brilliantly. You may not find a meal on the menu yet, with a mixture of sides, you’ll be able to create a meal which will at least allow you to satisfy your hunger.

On the other hand, Going out for pizza was a breeze. Think you can’t have garlic bread or pizza? Wrong. I simply had bread and garlic oil which curbed any cravings for garlic bread (which is usually cooked with butter!) and asked for a pizza without the cheese (tomato base with all the vegetable toppings). Again, the pizza restaurant (and I must state this was a traditional independent restaurant) were more than obliging and it was satisfying to be able to enjoy my favourite cuisine just as enjoyably and cruelty free! (“YES”, I hear you cry,  you really don’t have to lock yourself inside your room and miss going out for meals with friends!)

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Vegeteriana pizza at Cassa Mamma Ristorante Pizzeria, Kings Cross

 

Overall…

Two weeks into being vegan and I’ve already challenged all the concerns I had with the diet and hopefully proved to you just how easy it’s really been. When I think how long I pushed back being vegan over comments that it would be too expensive/ complicated, I honestly expected lent to be a six week struggle and take a lot of adjusting… but two weeks in and I’m still waiting for that moment of dramatic change. Yes, you can make intricate meals, yes you can spend more money being vegan, but you can also enjoy cheap simple meals like the above, just as easy as any other diet. Which leads me on to my biggest tip…

Don’t look to changing your entire diet. Take the meals you already eat and find an easy replacement so you can still enjoy the same meals you know you love! It only takes small changes to make a big difference…

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