by Clare Mullaniff

I am one for New Year’s resolutions. I like rounded, even resolutions like reading 52 books in the year or listening to 52 new albums in the year (both I completed). So this year I wanted something just as neat, but a little bit more challenging, yet beneficial in some way.

I decided, for 2016, I would try 12 new things that benefited myself, others, or the world in some small way. For January, I’d go vegan to benefit my health and the animals; For February, I would clear out my wardrobe and donate clothes to refugee centres; For March, I would only use fair trade products, and so on; you get the idea!

In doing something new each month, I’m hoping that, by the end of the year, I can make small but sustainable changes in every area, rather than trying one huge thing for the entire 365 days. Inspiration for this came from the Global Goals – read about that HERE.

So January. Veganism. Why? Mainly because I’ve read a lot about the health benefits, and how cutting out animal products helps all areas of your well-being. I won’t preach, I’ll just link a few articles and let you make up your own mind. But I personally liked the idea of feeling and being healthier all round. I also wanted to see if I could stick to veganism for the month, because I love a good challenge! And of course, I like the idea of not harming animals, or eating them in any way. As a vegetarian of eight years, it made sense to take the next step and give up animal products altogether. I thought keeping track of what I’m eating and how difficult I’m finding the process might help others who are thinking about roadtesting the plant-based lifestyle. Or you could be like me and just be nosey about other people’s lives! Either way, this will be a four-part blog, one for each week I’m going vegan.

The first thing I had to do, obviously, was buy some vegan food. I made a rough plan for the month with ideas for meals, and what ingredients I would need. As well as cutting out dairy, I thought I’d go full throttle and eat only whole-wheat pasta, basmati rice, brown bread, that sort of thing, for optimum health benefits. I was lucky in the sense that I was used to eating without meat, so that wasn’t a big shopping change. The main ingredients I had to buy was protein sources (as I usually eat quorn), so I stocked up on beans of all kinds: lentils, tofu, nuts, etc. I also had to get my dairy substitutes – I opted for sweetened almond milk, sunflower spread and alpro soya vanilla yoghurt to start me off. A few crackers, some granola and dark chocolate for snack attacks, and I was all set. I spent roughly €35 buying the month’s staples, then another €10 or so on the things I’ll have to buy more frequently, like fresh fruit and veggies. All the food was really easy to find in Tesco, there was great variety, and own-brand, budget versions of most things, so I would recommend the store for vegans.

Now, onto the actual cooking and eating; instead of a long winded ‘what I ate for the week’, I’ll just give the general gist of the foods I ate for each meal.

Breakfast was always simple enough: soya vanilla yoghurt with granola and fresh fruit, apple and cinnamon cereal with almond milk, or Pumpkin and poppy seed toast with mashed banana on top – my go-to-breakfasts for the week.

Lunch generally consisted of a protein (falafel, lentil burger, bean salad), and then toasted pitta bread, fresh green salad, hummus, avocado, or nuts on the side.

Dinner consisted of, again, a good source of protein (tofu, bean burger, lentil burger, beans), and sweet potato fries, baked potato, mash potato, basmati rice, and of course, loads of veggies.

Snacks included: crackers and hummus, a bowl of mixed fruit, apple and peanut butter, rice cakes, and alpro soya desert pots (highly recommend the chocolate one for anyone who has a sweet tooth like myself).

Being honest, I enjoyed each meal and didn’t feel like I was missing anything. There was always lots of flavour and I didn’t feel hungry between meals. I did find that I had to spend more time cooking, as everything was more or less prepared from scratch. I set aside a few hours on the Friday, cooked some bean burgers, sweet potato and tofu burgers, and lentil burgers, which I froze so I’m good to go for the month; they’re quick and easy to have for days you just don’t feel like cooking.

The dairy substitutes were just as good, the only thing I missed was cheese. I’m no nutrition expert by any means, you can find all that on google if you’re interested, but I was generally just making sure I had protein, grains/carbs, and fruit/veggies with every meal to ensure I wasn’t missing out on any nutrients. All in all, on the cooking front, just be prepared and stock up on ingredients. You won’t be stuck for something yummy to make.

My first week going vegan has been successful. I have more energy, I’m learning more about cooking, and finding lots of delicious new recipes to try that I probably would have overlooked before. I definitely think I’ll stick it out for the month, and I’m excited to try more new meals next week.  Stay tuned!

If you want to join Clare in the four-week challenge, check out Zen Habits and Forks Over Knifes for more on the topic. And if you’re looking for recipe ideas, head over to Minimalist Baker, Avocado Pesto, or Jaime Oliver for some delicious and nutritious vegan delights.