As a registered dietitian and experienced meal prepper I eat a lot of vegetables already, but I wanted to see what going vegan—basically adding even more plant-based foods to my diet, while also removing any animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy)—would be like and what it would do for me. For one week, I challenged myself to follow a vegan diet. I wanted to try this for a few reasons, including the health benefits associated with following a plant-based diet. After all, nutritious eating is a journey, not a destination, so there is always room to try new things and see what works for you. My family would not be partaking in this one-week vegan challenge I created for myself, so I also wanted to see what it would be like to have different dietary requirements than my family, especially because I’m the household’s main cook. I also wanted to do this so I could better relate to my clients who are vegan or who are interested in trying veganism.
Following a plant-based diet isn’t just about cutting out the animal products. You want to ensure you're addressing all the nutrients you might miss out on when you stop eating meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. The key to following a nutritiously adequate vegan diet is to do a bit of planning. I paid particular attention to my protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. I'm also breastfeeding my 1-year-old, so I wanted to ensure I am eating enough food so that my milk supply isn’t affected. Again, this just required a bit of forethought and planning. If you want to switch to a vegan diet, talk to a registered dietitian who can help you make sure you're getting everything you need.
After taking into account my nutritional requirements as well as what I love to eat my plan looked like this (see the recipes below!):
Breakfast: Chia seed pudding with bananas and peanut butter
Snack 1: Za’atar tofu fries with hummus
Lunch: Roasted Tandoori power bowl with avocado dressing
Snack 2: Pomegranate
Dinner: Vegetarian chili
Snack 3: Sesame chocolate energy bites
After a week of being vegan, I felt great energy wise. My milk supply wasn’t affected either, which I think is primarily due to the fact that the meals met my calorie requirement. My biggest concern going into the week was that I wouldn’t feel full because there was no meat or chicken on my plate. Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to finish most meals because they were quite hearty and satisfying. I did miss cheese, though, and realized through this experience how much cheese I actually consume. I impressed myself with how many more vegetables I was eating. I now realize that before I tried this challenge, I always planned my meals with animal protein as the main focus, but this week made me look at vegetables as the star of the meal.
When I was home, I enjoyed following my vegan meal plan. It was when I was going out that it was a bit challenging. I tried my best to pack my own meals and snacks but I realized that when I was out and not around a trendy vegan spot, the vegan options available weren't always the most sound. For instance, if we stopped at a halal burger joint, I would be limited to having fries only. It was this sense of restriction that I didn’t like. I also had a batch of granola I made but since it used honey, it technically wasn’t vegan, which felt a bit wasteful.
I didn’t mind that my family was following a non-vegan meal plan. I essentially looked at it as them eating the same foods I was, with the addition of a few non-vegan items. For instance, I had baked some tandoori chicken for my family to have with their meals if they wanted to. There were times when I couldn’t eat my daughters’ leftover yogurt or cheese, which I would normally do if they couldn't finish up their food. Since my family was still eating items like poultry and dairy, we didn’t necessarily save that much on our grocery bill.
This experience taught me that if I planned it well, I could have a satisfying meal with plant-based protein. I also learned how difficult it can be for someone who has dietary restrictions to easily find stuff they want to eat when they're away from home or in social settings.
After this one-week challenge, I'm still eating more plant-based during the week when I'm at home, with plant-based protein and vegetables being the stars of my meals. I particularly enjoy having plant-based lunches and dinners, especially since I feel so energized after them.
While this experience has pushed me to go further plant-based in my healthy eating journey, I’m not quite ready to give up cheese and halal burgers!
Chia Seed Pudding with Bananas and All-Natural Peanut Butter
Makes 1 serving
- 1 cup unsweetened cashew milk
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 banana
- 1 tbsp all-natural peanut butter
In a mason jar add chia seeds and maple syrup. Mix together until a smooth paste forms. Pour in milk and stir continuously. Cover with lid and keep in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, slice 1 banana and add it to the pudding with all-natural peanut butter. Mix and enjoy!
Za’atar Tofu Fries
Makes 4 servings
- 1 package extra firm tofu
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp za’atar seasoning
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut tofu into strips. In a bowl, mix together za’atar seasoning and olive oil. Dip each tofu strip into seasoning mix and place on baking sheet. Bake tofu fries for 30 minutes, until browned and crispy. Optional: Flip fries to achieve crispness on both sides.
Roasted Tandoori Power Bowl
Makes 4 servings
- 7–8 small eggplants, chopped
- 1 tbsp tandoori masala + 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 tbsp tandoori masala + 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 head cauliflower, chopped
- ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp black pepper + 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 cup spinach
- ½ cup bean sprouts
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together chopped eggplants, tandoori masala, and oil. Place on one side of baking sheet. Mix together chickpeas, tandoori masala, and oil, and place on same baking sheet. Mix together cauliflower, olive oil, salt, and black pepper, and place on a separate baking sheet. Bake both trays for 35 to 40 minutes until veggies brown and chickpeas are crispy. When ready to assemble, layer spinach in bowl and top with chickpeas, eggplant, cauliflower, and bean sprouts. Top with creamy avocado dressing (recipe below).
Creamy Avocado Dressing
- 2 avocados
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 1 garlic clove
- ¼ cup cilantro or parsley
- ¼ cup of water
- Salt and black pepper
In a blender, add avocados, lemon juice, garlic clove, and cilantro. Add water. Blend until smooth. Add 1 tbsp water at a time if you want the dressing to be a little thinner. Be careful not to add too much water at once; you still want the dressing to be thick and creamy. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper. Taste to adjust seasoning and blend until mixed. Pour into a jar and store for up to one week.
Makes 4–6 servings
- 1 can diced tomatoes (28 oz.)
- 1 can black beans (14 oz.)
- 1 can lentils (14 oz.)
- 1 bag mixed frozen vegetables (any variety you like)
- 2 small onions, diced
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- Salt and black pepper
- Crushed chili flakes
- Red chili powder
- Cilantro, to garnish
Heat the olive oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and allow them to lightly brown by stirring every so often. Add the can of diced tomatoes and stir Add in the spices to your liking, I like my chili spicy so I added about a teaspoon of each and 2 tsp of crushed chili flakes. Be sure to taste as you go along! Drain the black beans and lentils and rinse with water to get rid of the extra sodium and add to the pot. Add the frozen vegetables and stir. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add ½ cup water and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from stove, garnish with cilantro, and enjoy!
Sesame Chocolate Energy Bites
Makes 25 energy bites
- 2 cups dates, pitted
- ½ cup tahini
- ¼ cup ground flaxseed
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
In a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse until well combined. The mixture should come together when pressed between fingers. Make 25 1-inch balls. Store in the refrigerator.