I salute you!
I’m no vegan, but I do try to make more of my meals meat and dairy free than aren’t. It’s not because I particularly enjoy butterbeans. It’s actually for many reasons which I won’t bore you with now but suffice to say if I could get away with a bacon double cheeseburger for every meal I would. But I can’t, so I had to adapt and I eat meat once a week at most and avoid milk when I can. I still eat eggs, but in a very picky way. I’m doing ok with it, but it’s not an easy change to make when you are used to cooking and eating in a certain way.
Leaping into a massive dietary overhaul is hard work and takes prep. Going vegan as a temporary choice or challenge can be particularly murky if you’re not someone trying the lifestyle for your (strong) ethical beliefs. So if you’re a steak and eggs fanatic about to launch yourself face first into the meat free frijoles at one of the darkest and most depressive times of the year, I have a few tips for you below. Good luck.
Get stocked up: Don’t try this on the hoof whilst nursing your January 1st hangover. Get out to the shops and secure enough basics to last the first few days without resorting to the chip shop. Get in plenty of fresh veggies and some vegan pasta sauces and maybe even an emergency ready meal or two if you can find vegan friendly ones. Flora make a really good seed-oil based margarine-type-spread that will keep your toast happy and melts nicely over veg in place of butter. I’m also a massive fan of Oatley oat milk which my Mr doesn’t complain about having in his cereal every day. It is particularly tasty in smoothies if you’re having That Kind of January also.
Don’t try to sub your favourites: Seriously if you are the biggest Brie fan this side of the Seine, don’t be going out in search of some vegan cheese to stem your cravings. It isn’t the same and it will just make you want the real one more. Same goes for tofu ‘chicken’ or fake fishcakes and don’t get me started on aquafaba eggs. By all means test them if you’re curious but don’t have them because you think they will satisfy your yearning for the real deal. Just skip those. It’s only for a month.
Avoid the sneaks: Little vegan fails are EVERYWHERE, especially in processed/ready made foods. The most common culprit in my experience has been milk products showing up in veggie items like burgers, table sauces, instant snacks and even vegetable stock cubes. Many curries make use of fish sauce, crisp seasonings use all sorts of dairy offshoots and some sweets still contain gelatine. Quorn products frequently contain dairy and/or eggs. Check your labels and keep your animal free month legit.
Know your junk choices: For all the food you will be missing in your Veganuary period, there is a load of really yummy stuff you can treat yourself with. I’m not going to now give you some bullshit about the tastiest kale crisps ever. I’m talking chips and guacamole. Bread piled high with jam and peanut butter. Oreos. Vodka martinis. All vegan. Get researching and get em in your cupboards for emergencies.
Fill up on flavour: get plenty of flavour boosts in to jazz up your meals. Herbs and spices yes but also your pungent veg like garlic, fresh ginger root and chilli. One of my favourite stirfries uses chilli, fresh ginger and a big squeeze of lime juice- so easy but really transforms a plate of beans and greens. Invest in some dressing oils- avocado and walnut oils make great dressings hot or cold and balsamic vinegar gives a sweet edge to bitter greens like kale and sprouts.
And don’t boil the crap out of everything! Try lightly steaming your veggies or sauté in coconut oil. If you must boil, do it briefly to an al dente point, not soggy fibrous Armageddon- apart from tasting like crud you will lose a lot of the nutrition too.
Forget the diet: Please don’t try to calorie restrict while you are in your flash vegan stage, you will just make yourself
more miserable. Enjoy plenty of nuts and the healthy fats they provide. Luxuriate in plates of pasta and sweet potatoes. Take an extra helping of baked beans if you’re hungry and tuck in to that dark chocolate at every opportunity. Look for brightly coloured fruit and veg to vary the nutrients you are getting and don’t be afraid to dress them. I don’t love the anti-vegan argument of ‘you can’t get the nutrition’ but you do have to mix up your meals and rethink your portions. Don’t just eat the same dinners you did before without anything on your place in place of that chicken breast.
Tell everyone about it: Please. Tell all your meat eating friends how amazing and self sacrificing you are being. They will be interested and supportive and in no way think you are both boring and judgey 😐.
Seriously though, if you know other vegans, talk to them. They know stuff, good stuff, stuff you can eat. If you find a great recipe for spicy bean dip, share it. Check out some vegan cookery pages like this one here for tips, recipes and support and get social.
Just give up sausages and go free range: Not that I don’t wish to be supportive, but do you really want to do this when it’s cold and dark and you’re not quite over the Christmas cheese shock? Not many people start Veganuary and remain converted by Valentine’s Day. Because it’s hard, and if you’re just doing it to chalk off a challenge is there really much point? If you’re going into this because of your personal ethics or for health reasons you are more likely to succeed long term if you start slowly. Scrap the sausages and processed meat in week one. Come the 8th of Jan give up anything that isn’t free range- trust me if you stick to this you will cut out a ton of animal produce so quickly because very little supermarket meat or dairy is labelled to tell you this. Because so much of it isn’t free range. Next week after that, swap your milk to an oat or almond variety. Next week only go vegetarian when you are eating out, be that three posh courses in town or a meal deal from M&S. You’ll get there in the end.
Or maybe you wont, going vegan is hard. But you might just make some long term changes that help your diet and the plight of mass farmed critters everywhere. Don’t let the hardcore campaigners kid you, little changes really do make a difference.
If you fancy a laugh at my discomfort and some how-not-to tips, I did a full on Vegan Challenge a while ago that you can read here: The Vegan Diaries