Vegetarian Challenge: The Conclusion

I ended up with a sinus infection toward the end of the challenge, which meant my time online was limited and I spent a lot of time sleeping. I also ended up anemic (more on that in a minute) which drug me down a lot and caused me to spend a lot of time sleeping, so I wasn’t able to post as much as I had planned, but I’m not ignoring the challenge and I will post some of the recipes soon too. But today the challenge ends, officially, and I thought I’d update you guys and gals on how it went.

First, though, let me say: I’m really glad I did this challenge. I highly recommend to you all that you consider doing a vegetarian challenge too. Not so you change your lifestyle or anything permanently, but so you can see how making minor changes in your diet can make major impact in your life. This challenge definitely did that for me. Huge differences in how I think about and plan meals, huge differences in how I budget and shop and plan, and huge differences in how I look at what should go on the dinner plate. These are changes I think are going to stay with me.

Vegetarian Challenge: Changing the Concept of What’s on the Plate

So I knew before starting the challenge that we were too meat-centric in my household. I love meat, the gang loves meat, that’s just how it is. We BBQ a lot. I rarely made a dish that didn’t have some type of meat in it, even salads, pastas and the like. Yes, even my vegetable dishes had meat in them, like beans having ham or bacon in them, bacon bits and chicken on a salad, bacon crumbled in a pasta salad, you name it. Meat is a staple–and it shouldn’t be! Staples should be those basic things that are used in most meals, the building blocks of the meal, not the main course as a staple.

In many countries, meat is a luxury, a treat that is had once in a while. In many countries, meat is something that has to be hunted and prepared so it’s treated with respect like it’s something that is rare and you might not have any again for some time. Here in America, and most of the industrialized countries, though, meat is really the main course of every meal, the centerpiece of the meal, and we consume it in exceedingly exorbitant amounts. Nothing made this fact clearer to me than one night, during the challenge, when my son refused to eat what we were having for dinner, so he went to the deep freeze on the back porch, got out a package of meat and made it for him and his sister to have for dinner that night. He pulled out a three-pound package of meat and cooked the entire package (I think it was pork ribs) and he and his sister ate the whole thing for their meal that night, with a side of rice. Yes, my adult children at 1 1/2 pounds of meat each with a small side of rice for dinner! One and a half pounds of meat each!

This challenge didn’t convince me to go vegetarian for life or for a lifestyle, but it has redefined my concept of what goes on a plate. When I researched menus before, I always looked up recipes for main courses and focused on making that main course, then I would throw some veggies in with the main course. I followed recipes exactly for the main course, but for the veggie sides, I just tossed whatever into a pan or into some water or into the microwave, whatever, whatever. Sure, sometimes I’d try a dish that sounded good, but mostly, it was all about the main course meat.

What this challenge has done for me is to make me look up the recipes for the veggies, to create my own veggie recipes, and then I’ll add the meat to them–if they even need meat–so I’ve made the meat the afterthought instead of the main course.

Meat Isn’t Always Necessary in the Dish!

I found there were a ton of dishes I usually make that I could have omitted the meat from and probably not even noticed it was missing. For example, I make a fantastic broccoli and cheese casserole, that I usually put chicken chunks into. Well, I could make that without the chicken, and it still tastes just as good. I even learned how to make a chili without any meat in it and it wasn’t bad at all! So if I can eat dishes WITHOUT meat in it and almost not notice, that means I can greatly reduce the amount of meat in the dish and probably not affect the flavor and enjoyment of it at all, but greatly increase the healthiness of it. For example, instead of three pounds of ground beef in my amazing chili that everyone loves so much–since we enjoyed it without any meat AT ALL–why not reduce the meat in half or even down to just one pound and make the same batch of chili? Cuts the fat, red meat, calories, everything, but still has all the flavor.

So that’s the second thing I really got from this challenge: We eat TOO MUCH meat, so we can reduce that and probably not miss it at all. That’s what this challenge helped me do too. After a month of almost no meat (more on the ‘almost’ in a minute), adding meat back into the dishes now, I can do that in small proportions, and we likely won’t miss the meat that’s missing–since it’s better than none at all!

Veggies Can Be Savory!

Vegetables can be savory, and the right spices, and paying attention to recipes and blending things properly, can make a really savory vegetable dish that you don’t even notice doesn’t have meat in it. It’s not all about salads and raw foods. I made some amazing dishes that were hot, savory, and tasted amazing. Then, there are, of course, the light, refreshing, crunchy and raw dishes that I do love–I just didn’t want them to be ALL I ate.

I Blew It on the Challenge!

In the interest of full disclosure, I totally blew it on the challenge. My mother came into town and we took her and my stepfather to a Brazilian steakhouse (we’d been planning it for several months). It’s sort of hard to go to a steakhouse and not eat steak. It’s not impossible, mind you, but hard. So I didn’t fight it. I did, however, attempt to limit the amount I ate. I think in the end that’s the whole point of this for me: I’ll limit my meat consumption and put more effort into eating healthy vegetables and fruit to have a more well-rounded diet.

Later that week, my mother took us out for burgers. Yes, I could have ordered the black bean burger or the veggie burger, but I didn’t. Then, in the third week of the challenge, my anemia hit me again, hard. I’m not talking about anemia when some people say they have anemia and are a bit shaky and need to eat a cheeseburger–I’m talking about anemia that is iron-deficiency that is bad enough I’ve almost had to have blood transfusions and spent a night at the ER over it. Well, one of the possible complications of a vegetarian diet, if you don’t do it right, is potentially being low in iron. Protein and fats can be made up in other ways, but iron is tough. The items you would normally eat to offset that are things I can’t have in abundance (like the leafy greens), because I’m on coumadin and the leafy greens have vitamin K, and that messes up my coumadin doses and that’s not a good thing.

So at this point, I started craving bloody red meat. I did, with a powerful lust for it. You have no idea. This culminated in my eating a 12+ ounce steak, pan fried, at about 9 in the morning one morning. Judge me if you will, but I felt tons better after that. Then, the next day, I needed more, so I ate a huge portion of a top sirloin too, again, for breakfast. So in the entire 30-day challenge, I ate meat four times, but the rest of the time was vegetarian. I also went back on my iron pills again, which is helping some with the meat cravings. I’ve been cooking some of the veggies in cast iron also, and that’s helping some. If I were to stay vegetarian on a regular basis–which I’m not really planning on doing, but I am planning on reducing meat–then I would need to stay on my iron pills. This won’t necessarily be the case for everyone.

All said and done, I’m calling the challenge a success and I learned a lot from it.

NEGATIVES:

  • My iron levels got too low.
  • It’s hard to stay vegetarian for me when we go out in public to eat.
  • Finding vegetarian recipes with texture (crunch, chewyness, thickness), instead of ‘mushy’ was a challenge, but I managed to do it.
  • Requires more frequent shopping (vegetables only stay fresh so long–I suppose we could use frozen to help with that though).
  • My son won’t eat most of the dishes I made.

POSITIVES:

  • Changed how we looked at eating and how we approached our meals–made me focus more on health and quality foods.
  • We ate better, healthier, and actually ate MORE food but felt less ‘weighted down’..
  • Forced me to try new things, new ways of cooking things.
  • Felt better about what I was doing for myself and my family’s health.
  • Enjoyed more variety
  • LOST 9 1/2 pounds without changing anything else about my lifestyle! Yes, you read that right–I lost 9 1/2 pounds on one month of doing vegetarian, and that’s with four days of cheats!

What Happens After the Vegetarian Challenge?

I don’t know. I mean, technically, we ended the challenge day before yesterday, but last night, I made a vegetarian dish. I should have taken pictures of it, because it was really pretty. I took red beans and made homemade refried beans with them out of coconut oil, spices, and the beans, fried them up and smashed them. Spread the beans on the tortillas, then spread some tomato enchilada sauce I had made for when we cooked cheese enchiladas but had some left over, and I smeared that all over the beans, then I put cheese on top of that. Then I added some diced tomatoes, onions and sliced fresh jalapenos and popped them in the oven to bake. When the cheese was all melty and the tortillas were crisp, took them out, put some cilantro, some fresh sour cream, and a squeeze of lime. We each had three of these–I only finished two. They were filling and yummy, and I never even noticed there was no meat in them.

We did a stir-fry one night, with edemame, hearts of palm, cilantro, onion, baby bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, wasabi peas, serrano peppers, jalapeno peppers, purple cabbage and lemon grass slivers all sauteed in a wok with some hoison sauce (Love this stuff) and some soy sauce, a little oyster sauce, sea salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Then after they cooked, I tossed in some black quinoa that was already cooked, and mixed it up with the sauce and served it. I would have never even realized there was no meat in this if I hadn’t cooked it myself, because it had so much variety and color and flavor to it. It was quite yummy and quite filling.

I think that where this leaves me is that I’m going to try to focus more on eating vegetables as my main staple diet, and have the meat be something I throw in now and again, with the focus being on the vegetable dishes. In dishes that I used to put meat in, like casseroles and soups and stews, I’m going to reduce the amount of meat I use–it honestly doesn’t need as much as I’ve been using. Portion control when we do use meat will be in effect, and it will change how we shop and plan meals. I like that. I think breaking the concept that we need a pound of meat for a meal every night will be a great thing for healthy meal planning, not to mention the food budget. I mean, if three pounds of meat costs $8 per pound and I can reduce that to one pound of meat without anyone missing it really, then I just saved $16 and that buys a lot of fresh vegetables or fruit.

Dollar for dollar, eating full vegetarian is about the same cost as eating a diet with meat, if you’re already preparing meals at home and cooking. If you’re not, then it might look like it’s costing you more at first, but in the end, I think you’ll realize it’s not. When you cut out the dining out, the fast-food lunches, and the cost of the meat, and move that over into the budget for the vegetables and fruits, it evens out or you even come out a little ahead. For us, I spent nearly identically for the vegetarian budget for food as I did for the meat budget for food… with adding meat back in but reducing the amount we eat, I think we’ll actually save money in the long run. I’m happy about that part of it.

I also think I’m going to start having at minimum one meatless menu night every week. One day when I plan ahead to have a meatless meal. I will likely have many others, but I want to at least plan on one per week minimum. I also think I will likely do this challenge again, once or twice per year, to help keep me on track for reducing the amount of meat we use and resetting our levels of expectations for meat.

I won’t be giving up my steak any time soon, but I do think I learned a lot from doing this challenge and I’m glad to be reducing the amount of meat we eat as a family. In the consumption of meat, however, we are also being more environmentally conscious and health conscious about the meats we do choose to eat. For example, we are eating only organically raised meats: grass-fed, farm raised, pastured cows from local farms; free-range chicken eggs and yard-outside raised chickens who eat grass as well as non-GMO organic grains; and pastured pigs. We use raw milk and raw milk cheeses from farms we personally have visited or know about their processes here locally, and these are non-hormone fed, well-treated, humanely raised animals.

It’s a compromise I can live with, and I think it’s better for my health and my psyche to do it this way. I’ve love to be able to be a vegetarian, vegan even, but I simply know that’s not who I am. I understand and have a lot of respect for people who can make those decisions and stick with them. For me, this is something I can live with, something that will keep me healthy, and something that will be sustainable–that’s what matters to me. No diet in the world is any good if it’s not sustainable.

So what about you? Have you taken the vegetarian challenge? Did you try to reduce your meat this month along with me? How did it work out? How do you feel about going vegetarian? Have you ever thought about it? More and more people are doing it these days–and there’s a reason for it! After all, nearly 10 pounds weight lost in a week when I ate all I wanted at every meal… well, you can’t beat that!

More recipes will come in the near future.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Love and stuff,

Michy

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2 comments to Vegetarian Challenge: The Conclusion

  • Kimberley Linstruth-Beckom  says:

    Good for you Michy! I could only get my family to do a week but we all really liked it and I think everyone in my family learned too. And I don’t know if this happened for you, but we actually spent less for our food and was able to eat A LOT more. I came home with twice the amount of grocery bags than I usually do.

  • Farah Evers  says:

    I’m glad you tried it and learned something from it. I think this is as important as actually adapting an entire new lifestyle. Now you have found a new balance that works for you and your health. That’s what’s important!

    Congratulations on the weight loss too! :)

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