Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone (GOYCZ) Challenge: No meat, please. I’m a vegetarian.

I come from a long lineage of non-vegetarians. No one in my family is a vegetarian, nor are any of my friends. I don’t think I’d even met a vegetarian until college. But with all the recent in-your-face documentaries about the treatment of animals raised for livestock, it really got me thinking. Could I live in a world without hamburgers and Chicken Piccata? I think of that poor calf stuffed into an overcrowded pen and decide, ya, I’m gonna give it my best shot.

Note: Let me start by saying that this is just my personal experience. There’s nothing scientific about the food choices I made—I didn’t measure out how much meat protein I normally ate on a given week and try and equally substitute that with vegetarian alternatives. I didn’t interview other vegetarians or comb the internet for nutritious vegetarian recipes. I just winged it (no pun intended).

Day One: Breakfast starts out easy enough. I stick to my normal routine of a cup of coffee and a Nature’s Valley Fruit and Nut Granola bar. So far, so good! But because I didn’t get around to grocery shopping for the week yet, lunch proves to be a bit more difficult. What do vegetarians eat? Salad. Ok, I can do that. I load it up with veggies and extra croutons. It’s satisfying and filling enough…but the habit of eating chicken on my salad is leaving me a bit nostalgic.

Day Two: Time to hit the supermarket. I typically include some sort of meat protein in all my meals, so this is really stumping me on what to cook. Pasta? Pizza? Grilled cheese? This is shaping up to be a carbohydrate overload. I stock up my shopping cart with lots of veggies and then linger in the frozen section, checking out all the meatless-but-tastes-like-meat options. I grab a few items that look good and head for the check out. Unfortunately, I didn’t save any money at the register, hmph. That busts my “it costs less to eat vegetarian” theory.

Day Three: Today my dad invites me out to lunch and I realize as I’m looking over the menu for vegetarian options that this is something I’ve never done in my life. I’m starting to understand why vegetarians have such a difficult time at restaurants. There are only four options to choose from each contain large amounts of 1) cheese, 2) carbs or 3) oils/dressings. I order the Mediterranean wrap and OD on the fries. I notice that I’ve been eating more of the unhealthy stuff because I’m “depriving” myself of meat and make a mental note to be more conscious about my choices.

Day Four: I’m excited about breakfast today—a scrambled egg, basil, cheddar cheese and my (pre-vegetarian stint) favorite, Morning Star Breakfast “Sausage” patties. I discovered these way before I decided to be a faux-vegetarian and they are delicious. They have the genuine spiciness and flavor of real sausage and the texture is pretty dead on.

Day Five: Out to lunch again (at the Mainiax Café, this week’s SKC restaurant review location) and I ask the woman behind the counter what to get. She suggests the veggie wrap, since it’s the only thing sans meat on the menu. Ok, sold, I guess. I’m starting to get a little discouraged about being a vegetarian. I feel bored with my food limitations and my body is starting to show signs of the increased amounts of sodium and carbs that I’m ingesting. I constantly feel bloated and just plain yucky.

Day Six: For lunch I make another salad and include corn, garbanzo and black beans. Out of curiosity, I check the nutritional labels. In ½ cup of garbanzo beans, there are 470mg of sodium, and slightly less for equal portions of the corn and black beans. That’s almost 1400mg of sodium before I even add the salad dressing (fyi: that is the salt equivalent of a Quarter Pounder with cheese)! Honestly, I was excited about the prospect of feeding my body a super-healthy diet of fruits and vegetables this week, but somehow this experiment is backfiring on me. On a positive note, I’m guzzling water by the gallon. All that sodium is at least increasing my H2o intake, so I’ve got that going for me.

Day Seven: It’s a gorgeous, sunny day and I decide we’re grilling burgers tonight. Sort of. I bought a package of the Boca “All American Flame Grilled” veggie burgers. I’ve actually had these before and I think they’re pretty darn good. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re looking to mimic a burger taste and texture-wise, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But they have good flavor and are clearly more healthy than regular ground hamburger. We top off dinner with a batch of fresh baked brownies. Thank goodness vegetarians eat chocolate.

What I learned:

  1. Being a vegetarian in a meat-eating world is hard work. Restaurants cater to carnivores. Accepting dinner invitations to friends’ houses is tricky (what will I be able to eat?). Making healthy choices was waaay more difficult than I expected it to be.
  2. My body is hyper-sensitive to sodium so I had to be vigilant about checking labels. If I had too much, my jeans were the first to let me know.
  3. I felt a great sense of pride that no animal was “compromised” for my dining pleasure. Being a vegetarian afforded me a very clean-living state of mind that I really appreciated. I have a new found respect for animals that are raised for food and will be much more conscientious about seeking out producers who carry the “American Humane Certified” label (click here for details on this distinction) or other similar programs.
  4. Choosing to be a vegetarian is a personal choice, and one I’m much more open-minded to after this past week. I probably won’t convert 100%, but I’m much more cognizant about what I eat and the journey it took getting to my dinner table.

Could you go all-veggie for a week? Are you already a vegetarian? Share your thoughts with us on why or why not. Have some great tips on shopping and recipe finding for great vegetarian meals? Do tell!

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4 Responses

  1. I feel your pain. While I love cooking for my vegan and veggie friends, I’ve decided the best I can do personally is be sure I’m buying the most humane meats possible. If that means spending twice as much on pot roast beef because it lived a free-roaming lifestyle, so be it. Start small right?

  2. Jess

    I actually just attempted the 21 day Vegan Kickstart. Because I’m still breastfeeding and I started losing weight, I ended up doing a vegetarian (well technically pescatarian)challenge. Today is day 22. :) I’m enjoying adding lots of vegetarian and vegan meals.

    I really do think that when you try to do vegetarian challenges, you should have a menu plan with lots of good recipes planned out so that you don’t end up just eating processed food as a substitute. (I’ve also cut out almost all processed foods, sugar, white flour, hfcs, food dyes, and gone all whole foods.) I liked the Vegan Kickstart because they provided menus, recipes, and shopping lists so it made it easy for me not to worry too much about getting a balanced diet.

    I now have lots of good websites and blogs with helpful recipes if you need some. And I just ordered a bunch of vegetarian/vegan cook books off Amazon. A few family oriented cookbooks that seem great so far are The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and Better Than Peanut Butter & Jelly. While we aren’t completely going vegetarian at the moment these books will provide a great resource for me to prepare mainly veggie meals.

    Oh and an easy way to eat more veggies is to make green juice and green smoothies! But that could be a whole other post.

  3. Jess

    If you need some additional inspiration watch Food, Inc and read any of the books by Michael Pollan… The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules etc.

  4. Jessie Nickerson

    I have been a vegetarian for many years and I started out with the same problems… what to eat??? I actually gained weight as a veg-a-saurus lots of pizza and white pasta did me in, but over the years have discovered real food! Yes we still eat Boca burgers and such. But the vast majority of our intake is from the outside isles of our grocery store. You just have to learn new recipes, there are lots of great books out there (believe me, it took a while for me to fine them). All three of us are vegetarians including my 3 year old daughter. We are not vegan, we still have dairy in our lives, but it works for us. I truly feel healthier now that I’ve learned how to be a vegetarian. In fact, I USE TO have hypothyroidism… I’m just sayin’.

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