How ditching animal protein taught me to meal prep wiser, handle cravings better, and embrace all the beans.

By Health.com
May 29, 2018

Full disclosure: I am a video producer for Health.com, so I’m no stranger to the latest food trends and buzzy meal plans. When a coworker asked me to go vegan—ditch dairy and animal protein— for 22 days and vlog throughout the experience, it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree. I’d recently watched a few documentaries (like Food Inc. and What The Health) that showed the environmental consequences and health risks associated with eating meat, and was already feeling inspired to consume less of the stuff. What’s more, I already eat mostly whole foods, avoid dairy products that can exacerbate my acid reflux, and typically only have chicken or fish just once a day. So I thought to myself, how hard could a month without animal protein or dairy really be?

Craving a change

The beginning of week one was a breeze. The only difference in my day to day diet—subbing a dinner of veggies and grilled chicken for chickpea pasta or vegan chili. I also nixed my typical post-work hangouts with friends, where I’d inevitably order fries and a sandwich at the bar. Eating more home cooked meals made me feel amazing, not to mention it saved me a ton of money. Then came day seven, when a friend hosted brunch and served scrambled eggs, cheesy potatoes, and bacon. Unable to eat a single thing on the table, I found myself yearning for the scrambled eggs, a food that’s not even at the top of my like list. Since I almost never have cravings, my desire caught me off guard and frustrated me. Even worse, it stuck around for days! Suddenly, my plant-based meal plan was forcing me to think more about “off-limits” foods than ever before, and that didn’t feel healthy at all.

RELATED VIDEO: What Is a Plant-Based Diet—and How Is It Different From Going Vegan?

Thanks, but no thanks

Weeks three and four confirmed that a vegan approach to eating wasn’t right for me. Though I continued to meal prep new plant-based dishes I loved, there were days when my job and social plans brought me to restaurants where the only vegan options available were carb-rich bagels, potatoes, or bland veggie wraps. Yet, my 22-day stint as a vegan wasn’t all bad. The experience taught me that I don’t need to have animal protein every day— so I’ve only been eating it about three times a week— and to incorporate way more fiber-filled beans into my diet. It also showed me how important it is to follow a meal plan that fits my lifestyle (which means not having to worry if I can eat something every time I eat out) and to honor my body’s needs. And while I am proud of myself for sticking it out, I have to admit, if wanting a scrambled egg every now and then is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Molly’s Plant-Based Approach

Want to follow a vegan meal plan? Steal some of Molly’s tried and true tricks for ditching animal protein and dairy.

Try Easy Swaps

Finding good-for-you vegan substitutes for your favorite foods is key. My go-to: a dairy-free presto made from spinach, basil, kidney beans, olive oil, and water. It only took two minutes to make and paired well with everything!

Be Wise About Food Buys

Since the majority of my meals consisted of fruits and vegetables, my groceries had a fairly immediate expiration date. To keep things from spoiling, I upped my food shopping and meal prepping to twice a week.

WATCH THE VIDEO: 6 Things You Must Know About Going Vegan

Find Where to Dine

Mexican restaurants were by far the easiest places for me in terms of options. I could always order dishes like vegetable fajitas or rice and beans and guacamole that were balanced, delicious and satisfying.

Do Your Homework

Before I started my 22-day plan, I did a deep dive on YouTube to get tips from vloggers who also cut out animal products. Niomi Smart’s “What I Eat in a Day” videos showed me how many classic meals I could make vegan, including a cheesy pasta using nutritional yeast instead of cheese.