Aine Toner: I went on a vegan diet for a week – here’s how it went

With a third of people in the UK saying they want to follow a vegan diet and plant-based foods becoming increasingly popular, there has never been a better or more accessible time to change eating habits. .

ur special week dedicated to environmental issues has been planned for some time, which has given me ample opportunity to prepare for a plant week. Rather than grabbing items off the shelves in a hurry, which I did.

Not generally being a fan of red meat, almost always opting for chicken or fish, I thought vegan week would be a walk in the park.

I had no desire to recreate meat products; I was more than happy to get my fiber and protein from fruits and vegetables and legumes, the latter of which I wouldn’t have always thought of before.

I rarely drink cow’s milk, opting for almond or oatmeal hot chocolates at home and in coffee. Cheese that I could take or leave so really, was I halfway there already?

My parents and friends are all too aware of my annual Lenten forgoing – usually chocolate or soft drinks – so skipping animal products for seven days shouldn’t have been difficult.

I was stupid: living a plant-based lifestyle takes planning and preparation unless you want to eat the same thing I do.

Day one

I’m not a breakfast fan, so by lunchtime I was starving – and delighted with my falafel, hummus and pita bread. Let’s be honest: I felt super virtuous enjoying a meal that I would normally eat.

A trip to a local mall was a hit when my mom sat down with a sizable slice of Victoria sponge, and I had…a vegan cookie. Yes, it was delicious – tastier than its non-vegetable siblings and a preference I would keep – but still. Cake. I ran out of cake.

For dinner, I had M&S Plant Kitchen Vegan Bean Chilli with Blue Corn Chips, and honestly, it was the most delicious thing I ate all week. Made with minced pea meat, it was hearty with just the right amount of spice, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Cue a new meal option.

day two

Given my lack of preparation, I arrived at the Belfast Telegraph offices with microwaveable tomato and basil soup and not much else. Usually I would head to a local cafe for a lunchtime sandwich, but instead I sat at my desk and had some soup. Sure, it was lovely, but it wasn’t quite the same without a chicken and sarnie stuffing on granary bread alongside.

By dinner time I was hungry again and wanted something quick… so it was falafel, pitta and hummus (is there an echo here?).

I tried a vegan chocolate bar – Nomo Choc Caramel – and it was almost too sweet for my taste, so I stopped eating it. If you knew me, it’s practically unheard of.

Also swallowed fruits and dried fruits as well as raw vegetables.

day three

Working from home allowed me to take stock of what I had. Very little because someone (me) didn’t read the use label on some items.

Lunch was Plant Kitchen No Chic’N Gyoza and they were lovely, very similar to what I would order in a restaurant, but not enough to fill me up, hence lots of fruit.

I went out to dinner with a friend at Maggie May’s.

It has a specific vegetarian and vegan menu, and I was impressed with the choices – although this week taught me that those on a plant-based diet definitely get the short-term of the food stick.

I had veggie sausage (not for me), fries and beans. Chips! Beans! Hooray.

We both had the vegan chocolate cake, mine with vegan ice cream, hers with non-vegan ice cream. The cake was delicious and I’m not a fan of ice cream so the vegan version was good, but less creamy.

day four

Back to the office and lunch was rice cakes, peanut butter and banana slices. Which was lovely, “as a snack,” my best friend said on the phone later that week. To be fair, you’d have to eat a fair amount of rice cakes to feel full – and rice cakes are crispy, and I’m in an office. No one needs to hear my lunch.

Eggs are one of my favorite things and at that time I missed them, given that they easily form the basis of a dinner party at least once a week.

Instead I had vegan pesto pasta and a load of vegetables. I prefer fresh pesto and pasta (I have some notions) but this version of Sacla was delicious even though it didn’t come with a handful of parmesan cheese on top. Quick to make and to garnish.

The evening was brightened up with some Candy Kitten Strawberry candies. I would much prefer a chocolate bar but these jellies, made with strawberry juice, sweetened the day.

Fifth day

More rice cakes and bananas for lunch as well as digestives for an afternoon snack (who knew they were vegan?).

We live near the wonderful Bread and Banjo bakery and – hallelujah – I came home from the office to find a vegan sausage roll, which I ate with arugula, avocado, cucumber and onion .

Also had a sesame seed bagel which I dipped in hummus.

Yes, I actually kept the hummus industry going this week.

Sixth day

Working from home, lunch is vital, especially when you can’t be curious about what other people are eating. It was time for a fishless fish stick sandwich, made with, well, fishless fish sticks on brown bread with ketchup (also vegan). I tried a slice with vegan butter, but the aftertaste didn’t do anything for me.

The fishless fingers were crispy and warm, and you forgot the contents came from the rice, not the sea.

Friday is a take-out night, so I ordered a plant-based burger from a fast-food chain to eat while watching The Apprentice. Offer candidates a vegan meal challenge!

The burger was strange; it tasted like meat for the first bite then left a very strange aftertaste. I’d rather never eat it again.

seventh day

While having lunch with a friend, we headed to Maggie May’s. Yes again, and yes because I knew there would be something to eat there.

I ordered vegan cheese bolognese crisps and although vegan cheese wasn’t a new food to keep after this week – I had asked for it on the side as a snack before covering my lunch – the bolognese was full mushrooms, peppers and onions and the sauce was delicious.

Didn’t feel like I missed his lasagna, something I wouldn’t order.

However, I missed MM’s chicken goujons, which I love.

And because it was the last day, I ate carrot cake. It’s my all-time favorite cake, and it was a belt.

A main meal at lunch meant a small dinner of soup in the evening. OK, and some Candy Kittens. And maybe digestives.

Take away food…

Variety is key – proper preparation allows you to plan a range of meals and dishes that you will actually enjoy and look forward to. I definitely needed extra protein.

Fruits and vegetables – I really increased my intake during the week, especially vegetables, and I felt so much better.

Look at the labeling – I spent more time researching vegan products and menus this week than I ever did for “regular” eating. It gave me the impetus to read more carefully what I put in my body.

Just be fair – okay, I was vegan for a week, but by then it became clear that many restaurants needed to increase their plant-based options. Not just for me (!) but for anyone who wants to eat out and not feel like they’re an afterthought.