I Tried Going Vegan for a Week and This is What Happened

A plant-based diet isn't all tofu and carrot sticks. I mean, there is a lot of tofu. So much tofu. Find out what's like being vegan (just for a few days!).

I’ve flirted with the idea of going vegan at several times in my life. Like when I see one of those sad animal commercials (do you cry every time, too?). Or when I take my kids to a petting zoo and we get to hold chickens and pet them like they’re just feathery cats. Or when I make a really good veggie burger. Psst! Here are a few vegan recipes even meat eaters will love.

So going vegan for a week was a welcome assignment. Would it be as easy as I thought? My husband laughed and said I was in for a challenge. “No way! I still get to have chocolate!” (Well, not all chocolate. Dairy-free chocolate. Yes, that’s a thing.) At least wine is vegan, I thought.

Why Go Vegan?

People typically go vegan for one or more of three reasons: ethics, the environment or health. Either they want to live a cruelty-free life (and they consider slaughtering animals cruel), they don’t believe eating meat is good for the environment (livestock is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases), or they believe a plant-based diet is healthiest for their body.

For me, I remember visiting my grandparent’s farm in Minnesota as a little kid. My grandpa Ray would go out into the field and call the cows and they’d bound over to him like big puppies. I read somewhere that cows are as smart as dogs.

When I put two and two together and realized those cows wound up on our dinner table, I stopped eating them. It was easy to give up beef and pork and simply subside on the occasional chicken and fish, which I’ve done for the last 25 years. It’s a personal choice—I don’t look down at others who order burgers when we’re out to eat, and if my husband wants to grill a steak, that’s his business.

Do Your Research Before You Go Vegan

If you’re thinking about trying out veganism, even for a short while, a little homework is going to help you prepare for what’s ahead.

According to Vegan.com, going vegan is “easier than ever.” They offer up some nuggets of wisdom about making this major life shift:

  • Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to go 100 percent vegan instantly overnight. You can take smaller steps, like going completely vegan once a week, or following food writer Mark Bittman’s idea of “Vegan Before 6″—eating animal-free until dinnertime, and then eating what you’d like after that. Over time, maybe you’ll cut out animal products altogether. Maybe you won’t. You’ll see still eat far fewer than most people.
  • Try new foods at every opportunity. They recommend five new vegan foods a week to start, with the idea you’re crowding out animal products instead of cutting them out.
  • Do your research. There are a lot of books out there on veganism—Vegan.com recommends Vegan for Life, which focuses on making sure you’re nutritionally balanced as you start down this new road. I also found several that you could choose from depending on what type of vegan you imagine yourself becoming: The Mindful Vegan, The Skeptical Vegan: My Journey from Notorious Meat Eater to Tofu-Munching Vegan and Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World.

The First Step: Revamping My Fridge

Ready to jump in, it was time to revamp my pantry and fridge. That meant stocking up on things like tofu, tempeh, edamame, lentils (they are so good for you), nuts, beans, spinach, potatoes, oatmeal and almond butter—all good sources of plant protein. I chose a wide variety of vegetables and fruits—from beets to bananas. I grabbed a butternut squash and looked forward to struggling to cut through it for an hour. I grabbed brown rice, whole wheat pasta and the yummiest looking freshly baked bread I could find—may as well splurge on some carb deliciousness.

For me, one of the harder parts of going vegan would be giving up eggs. They’re my breakfast staple. I’ve heard there are vegan egg substitutes, but I didn’t delve into that this time. I just decided to go the oatmeal and cereal route. Also, I’d have to remember to forego the squeeze of honey on my overnight oats. Vegans don’t do honey.

What I Ate as a Temporary Vegan

I winged it at breakfast and lunch, but I didn’t find it hard to stay away from meat at either. A good veggie stir fry over brown rice can really fill you up. So let’s talk dinners, since that’s what I focused on most for meal planning.

Day 1: Heavenly Earth Burgers

The internet told me a quarter cup of avocado would work as an egg substitute in these burgers, but sometimes the internet lies. My burgers had nothing but my hopes and dreams to hold them together, and flipping them immediately turned into a pan of veggie hash. My husband immediately declared, “Still looks good to me,” which was sweet, and also correct. I did do the second batch with an egg to get some semblance of burger, and served those to my kids, ages 1 and 3 which, not surprisingly, they picked at. I think I’ve mentioned they’re seemingly allergic to anything that isn’t pizza.

Day 2: Fresh Corn and Tomato Fettucine

Taste of Home

Here, I nixed the feta and added a sprinkle of nutritional yeast to the top (similar to parmesan, but poorly named). It was good. I missed cheese, but not enough to give in.

Day 3: Lentil Tacos

Taste of Home

OK, so this was hands-down my favorite recipe of the week—who knew lentils were so good in tacos? It was very reminiscent of ground meat but almost with more flavor. Also, heads up, vegan cheese shreds are not cheese. It is shredded cardboard masquerading as cheddar. More knowledgeable friends said I was doing it wrong—you have to melt vegan cheese in order for it to lose its cardboard-ness. I am still skeptical. I say skip the cheese on this one and add more of your other favorite vegan toppings.

Day 4: Black Bean and Corn Quinoa

Taste of Home

I added some baked tofu and roasted kale chips to this and it was delicious, but light. I’m not going to lie—some grilled chicken or salmon with this would have been really good. I held strong and turned on Animal Planet.

Day 5: Curried Tofu with Rice

Taste of Home

Per a reader’s comment, I added mushrooms and chickpeas to this and it reminded me of the Indian takeout from down the street. Two nights in a row of tofu was making my start to crave something that… wasn’t tofu. I munched a carrot and reminded myself that plants don’t feel pain. You’ll want to check out these vegan cabbage recipes, too.

Day 6: Being vegan out in the world

I make it a rule not to cook on Fridays. Instead, we went to Chipotle where I tried their Sofritas Burrito Bowl (this is, you guessed it, tofu). I loved it, but I was still tofu-ed out at this point. Vegan week came to a close even though I was one day short.

Granted, I know veganism isn’t all tofu, but that’s just the train I hopped on this week. Overall, I would say my experiment was successful but definitely harder than I thought it’d be. I resolved to strive for Meatless Monday going forward and build from there. After all, did you know that if everyone went meat-free just one day a week, it’d be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road?

You’re welcome, Earth.

Looking to try Meatless Mondays? Start with these recipes.
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Amanda Kippert
Amanda Kippert has been an award-winning freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She is based in Tucson, Arizona and specializes in food, health, fitness, parenting and humor, as well as social issues. She is the content editor of the domestic violence nonprofit DomesticShelters.org.