21 days, 100% Vegan

Eating homemade trail mix during our hike (banana chips, pretzels, raisins, walnuts, sunflower seeds, vegan chocolate chips, dried cranberries, dried peas)

Eating homemade trail mix during our hike (banana chips, pretzels, raisins, walnuts, sunflower seeds, vegan chocolate chips, dried cranberries, dried peas)

Or more like 98% because I am pretty sure that I made a few mistakes along the way.  I do know for sure that I had an egg roll with veggies and tofu before I realized that the roll was made out of egg.  Well, duh.  Thanks to my mother-in-law for leaving all of those in my freezer…

I was very surprised that my daughter managed to do about 97% vegan for the entire 21 days.  She is more disciplined than I ever imagined.  I was even more surprised when she had to turn down certain snacks during the two weeks of state testing at school.   She brought her own (healthier) snacks instead.  Not only that, but she prepared most of her lunches (the night before) and this usually consisted of prepping recipes from “Vegan Lunch Box” by Jennifer McCann.  Kailey made sushi rolls (sans sushi of course), “cheesy” roasted chickpeas, PB&J muffins, corn tires, melon balls, pumpkin muffins, frozen snack tubes, homemade pretzels and soups.  Fortunately, I have a child who likes to cook and bake healthy foods!

A few other things I learned during the 21-day Vegan Journey:

1.  It is very difficult to find fast food or restaurants that cater to vegans.  I learned that this is actually a good thing (saves money and added weight gain).  I did go out to a Thai restaurant one evening with friends and I was able to ask the server to make a vegan version of the basil fried rice.  They made the dish without eggs and fish sauce.  I also went to a fast food chain called “Tokyo Joe’s” where they actually have a vegan menu listed on their website.  I was able to create my own vegan noodle bowl.  Lastly, I recently visited our local Indian restaurant and it was pretty easy to find foods that did not contain any animal products.  It appears that Asian is the way to go if you are a vegan.  However, nobody says you can’t have french fries!

2.  It took me a few days to get adjusted.  During that initial week I was overwhelmed and considered veganism to be very difficult.  It actually seemed nearly impossible.  Then I realized something.  You still have all of your food groups: proteins (legumes, grains, vegetables, tofu, tempeh), dairy (almond milk, almond yogurt, soy cheese, etc.), vegetables, fruits, whole grains and good fats.  Tacos and burritos are pretty simple.  I haven’t used taco meat or chicken in over two years anyway, so it was pretty easy to just refrain from adding cheese.  Spaghetti is always a very easy dish to make.  I always add loads of veggies to my sauce.  Salads and veggie sandwiches with hummus make excellent lunch options.  Veggie burgers, tofu dishes, Asian entrees, homemade pizza, soups, chili, quinoa, bean dishes… the list is endless.  I can pretty much take any meal and make it vegan.  I have even made a “meatless” meatloaf!

3.  Friends aren’t quite sure what the heck you are doing and dinner invites might diminish over time.  I made it really simple when I invited my friends over for dinner: homemade pizza!  I put cow cheese on their pizza and veggie cheese on my pizza.  They were even willing to eat a pizza without any meat!  Just throw in a salad, some fruit and a vegan dessert and you are all set!  Other options would be an Italian theme (just include a no meat sauce), Mexican theme (include a few veggies and beans and the vegan guests don’t have to use the cheese or sour cream), Asian theme (stir fry is super easy and you can have the chicken or shrimp as an option on the side), Chili cook-off, etc.  It really doesn’t have to be difficult so don’t be afraid to invite your vegan friends over for dinner!  Ask them to bring the dessert!

4.  I make healthier choices when I eat vegan.  My guilty pleasure is baked goods.  I love cupcakes, muffins, scones, cookies and cake.  However, when I focus on eating only vegan foods, I have to take the time to make my own baked goods (and they are usually healthier).  Now, when I go into a coffee shop, I just get my coffee when I find out that there are no food options that are vegan.  My homemade pizzas are healthier.  My burritos are filled with more vegetables and no cheese.  Processed foods are rarely an option.  I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks reading labels on every package in the store.  Most products have some form of dairy or egg product.  Even some of the fake meat products!  Now, I will admit that not all vegan items are healthy.  I still eat my chips, soy ice cream and whatever vegan chocolate I can get my hands on!

So, what’s the plan from here on out?  Going 100% vegan (or 98%) is great and all, but I am not quite ready for that level of commitment.  I think I will focus on around 85-90% for now and see how that goes.  I will make the conscious effort to avoid dairy and eggs, but I won’t be upset if I have a little bit every now and then.  Additionally, I love my seafood and am not quite willing to give that up entirely.  However, I will make more of an effort to avoid baked goods that didn’t come out of my oven and focus more on creating new vegan dishes.  Also, I intend to rely more on plant-based products when it comes to fueling during runs and recovery.  I admire those ultramarathoners who follow a 100% plant-based diet so I will continue to learn more about how they do it.

As for my daughter, I asked her what she learned from the 21-day vegan challenge and she responded with “that you fart a lot on a vegan diet.”  Well, then she followed that with “you eat healthier when you eat vegan.”  I know that she isn’t ready for a 100% plant-based diet either, but I do know that she has learned a lot more about making healthier choices and I hope that she continues to do so.  I am also grateful that she is open to cooking and baking healthy alternatives.

The goal here is to find foods that make you feel great and give you the energy you need.  I think I can do that when I focus on more plant-based foods.  I just feel healthier, stronger and have the energy I need to run harder and farther.  I have also noticed that I recover faster after tough runs.  I will stay the course as best as I can and learn more about what works well and what doesn’t.

Dairy or No Dairy?

One of the many yummy vegan desserts I made!  This is from minimalistbaker.com

One of the many yummy vegan desserts I made! This is from minimalistbaker.com

That is the question (one of many questions about food).  Some people believe (and have researched I might add) that dairy isn’t meant for human consumption.  Just read “The China Study” by Dr. Campbell and you will begin to question everything you eat.  It is tough to live that way, though.  Thinking about every piece of food you put into your mouth (and let’s not forget your kids’ mouths!).  At one point I questioned meat and I made the decision to cut it out of my diet.  Yet, there was something good to be said about consuming seafood so I kept that on the menu.  I’m not sure what my reasons were for either decision, but I guess they were good enough because meat and I have not made contact in over 17 months.  I felt good not eating meat any more so all I really wanted was just that: To feel good!

Back to the dairy.  We all know that dairy causes inflammation (there are a few foods on the list… not just dairy).  How many times did your parents tell you not to drink milk when you had a cold?  It caused all of that mucus build-up that was not fun to bring up.  Our bodies do not want inflammation.  And of course we all know that the human species is the only animal that drinks milk from another species.   Weird (but we actually do a lot of weird stuff in comparison to other animals).  In most cases, people can’t even digest dairy properly.  My husband is severely lactose intolerant so he either has to ingest a handful of lactaid pills or skip the dairy.  Babies have been known to react negatively to cow milk as well.  Then they are prescribed soy formula (which is a whole other can of beans I won’t get into here).

Needless to say, I don’t do much light reading these days.  It kind of drives my husband crazy, but I choose to be informed rather than ignorant.  Therefore, I decided to give a dairy-free diet a good try.  I did not consume (well, there were some bumps in the road I will discuss later) dairy for the entire month of August (still trying to get through today, but I am on a roll).  It was pretty easy to bring my husband on board since I already mentioned his intolerance.  The kids, on the other hand, kind of did their own thing, but they were privy to some new vegan recipes.

The most challenging part of the whole diet was the fact that I couldn’t enjoy a real pizza.  And, for some reason, all I craved was pizza.  I tried the dairy-free cheese pizza and the pizza without cheese, but it just wasn’t the same as good ol’ regular greasy, cheesy pizza.  I did find one that suited my palate okay.  It was Amy’s gluten-free, dairy-free pizza with spinach and a rice crust.

It was tougher than I expected.  I had to read bread labels, granola bar labels, cereal labels… pretty much all labels.  Surprisingly, almost all processed foods have some type of milk product.  Take a look yourself the next time you go shopping.  I went back to making my own vegan protein bars and baked goods.  Baked goods.  Yep, any time I went into a coffee shop or the bakery section of the grocery store  I just stared at the baked goods.  Hey, I think I might have lost 2 pounds this month.

I did mention some bumps in the road.  I couldn’t control everything, especially when we went out to eat.  Maybe the restaurant cooked the food in butter (even though I was the annoying customer who said no meat, no butter, no cheese please!) or I consumed something that I didn’t realize had milk in it. There was one time I think I really made a mistake.  I remember getting sushi rolls from the grocery store one day, but it took me 3 days to realize that I might have eaten rolls that contained cream cheese without even thinking about it.  Then it was back to making my own veggie rolls at home.  Goodness!  I sure did spend a lot of time in the kitchen this month!

So, what is the end result?  Ironically, this month I had a cold for about 3 weeks.  I haven’t been sick in nearly a year.  Coincidence?  Probably.  Do I feel better?  Not sure.  My husband says that it would take longer than a month to find out how a dairy-free diet affects my body.  He is probably right.  There are aspects of the diet that I have enjoyed.  Specifically eating healthier overall.  I have limited options when we go out to eat and that means that I have to spend more time making my own food.  This means I know exactly what I am putting into my mouth.  There are some new vegan recipes that we have enjoyed as a family.  My daughters love vegan mac and cheese.  They will pile it on their plates and eat seconds.  My oldest is more open to new things so I will admit that it has been a challenge for the younger two, but I have a feeling that they eat way more vegan dishes than their preschool and Kindergarten friends.  I don’t mind being “that” parent.  You know, the veganish parent.

What’s next?  I have decided that I will continue to limit the amount of dairy I consume.  However, I will be open to the occasional cheese pizza or food item on the menu that contains some dairy.  Yet, my home cooking will pretty much remain dairy free.  I enjoy finding new recipes to try out and I don’t really miss cheese on my sandwich or real butter on my bread.  Of course there is the issue of friends.  At our last dinner gathering my friend told me to bring the dessert because she had no idea how to make a dairy-free option.  It’s all okay though.  They know to bring their own meat for the grill when they come over.  Friends who are accepting of our interesting ways are the only friends we want to keep around anyway.

So, the next challenge won’t be a food challenge.  For the month of September, my oldest daughter and I will be doing core workouts every day for the entire month.  If we complete our workouts every day, then we will reward ourselves with a lunch date (vegan or not) at the end of the month.