Guest blog post from ‘Meatless Mum’
My lovely Healthy Herts Nutrition client has been making some fundamental food and nutrition changes recently and has written a revealing guest blog post for me about how she is moving her family from meat-eating to meat-free…
I had considered giving up meat for many years. Why then did it take me until I was forty-one to even try?
Part of the reason was my daughter, deeply suspicious of anything green and known to rake over food with a precision that forensic experts would admire in order to remove the tiniest fragments of hidden vegetable. I just couldn’t imagine how I would ever feed us both. She improved a little over time but still would only eat a few vegetables reliably, so you can imagine my surprise when – a couple of years ago now, when she was nine – she asked if I would support her if she decided to become a vegetarian. I couldn’t resist: “When I’d stopped laughing – yes!” We had a more serious discussion after my flippancy and I then discovered that my mother – who lives with us due to my health problems – was also not keen on giving up meat as she was worried that it might be too hard on her digestive system. We switched to organic or RSPCA-assured meat and the subject was shelved.
Flexitarianism: a compromise we could all live with
The question of meat eating arose again when a friend of mine became a vegan a few months ago. In our efforts to support her, we began eating vegetarian food as she visited. For more ideas I ordered a book on “part-time vegetarianism”, and it was in this book that I discovered the concept of “flexitarianism”, i.e. giving up meat on some days. This idea appealed to me immensely and it was then I realised: the real reason that I had never tried to give up meat before was that I had believed it would be too hard. I love my food and feared that I would find meatless eating tasteless and depressing. But giving up meat for a few days a week would surely be bearable, right?
We began by ordering a few of the best-reviewed vegetarian books on Amazon plus searching Google for more recipe suggestions. My daughter, her enthusiasm renewed, was set on eventually becoming a full time vegetarian, but I still hesitated. She is not known as “the Breadivore” for nothing and I suspected that getting sufficient nutrients into her would be an immense challenge. We therefore agreed that we would spend some months building up vegetarian recipes we all enjoyed and make a decision later in the year.
Taking the plunge into a meatless life
Despite this plan, within a matter of weeks I surprised myself by deciding to completely give up meat. We had found so many delicious recipes so quickly that eating without meat was actually a pleasure, partly as it revamped our rather tired menu but partly because it gave me that virtuous “check out how many vegetables I’m eating!” feeling. Joking aside my guts, always prone to tenderness and grumbles, suddenly seemed happier. When I tried to return to our old meat-based meals I found I no longer enjoyed them. I still had a couple of worries about giving up meat entirely – the main two being how would I manage without pepperoni on pizza, or turkey and pigs-in-blankets at Christmas – but the discovery of a recipe for vegan pepperoni reassured me that I would not have to forgo all of life’s little pleasures! My vegan friend and I tried a vegetable only curry selection from our local takeaway and I was sold: I really could do this.
Nutrition and pescatarianism
The next question – which should probably really have been the first! – was nutrition. My mother and I began by working out menu plans which attempted to cover a wide range of nutrients, focusing in particular on protein. I wanted to ensure that we had a good balance of the different types, and so we have eggs one day, chickpeas another, or beans, lentils, etc. I’ve tried tofu but wasn’t thrilled by it – I like my vegan friend’s description of its texture: “flobby” (she fries it until crispy to counter this). My recent appointment with Sarah has convinced me to stick more with plant- or dairy-based proteins; she explained that too much unfermented soy can raise oestrogen levels in humans which has all sorts of effects. Apparently it’s the organic, fermented soya found in miso, netto and tempeh that’s the healthy kind, so I plan to give that a try next. My major hiccup though was with Omega-3s; some Googling around the subject soon convinced me that it would be very difficult to get enough from plant-based foods, especially when I read that many vegetarians and vegans have to take fish oil supplements of some kind. Given my health issues in particular, I reluctantly decided that for now at least we would need to continue eating oily fish. Reluctantly in part because I actually dislike the taste, and have been grudgingly managing some weekly only since my first appointment with Sarah! So: pescatarianism it is.
The bump in the road: a picky eater
My mother had initially intended to go the part-time meatless route herself, cooking vegetarian meals for me and adding a piece of chicken for her, but she also soon found that she was enjoying the food and not experiencing the problems she had expected. Since she loves fish, pescatarianism suits her particularly well. It all sounds fairly simple so far…but not much in life is of course, and we have faced one fairly major issue: as expected, getting my daughter to eat well. She dislikes fish even more than I do, so one of our current challenges is to find ways to make salmon or trout taste passable to her. Generally this involves herby sauces. We add to the oily fish (Omega 3) intake by following Sarah’s excellent tip and hiding chopped anchovies wherever we can (this helps me too!) but it’s definitely a work in progress.
My daughter still also is really not a vegetable fan, and seems to think that giving up meat just means skipping this part of her meal and indulging her love of carbohydrates instead. The only non-meat protein she really likes is Quorn, which I prefer to limit as I know it’s very processed too. Non-Quorn meals usually involve her slowly and painfully chewing on her lentils/chickpeas/beans with me saying “You know you don’t have to do this… just because I’ve given up meat you don’t have to…” She is still adamant though that she wants to persist, “letting herself off” (as she describes it) here and there, for example when she is out with the scouts and there is nothing but sausages on offer. My ex-husband is supportive but not a great eater of vegetables himself, so meals at his can be a little variable too.
We’re trying to overcome the vegetable issue with lots of finely chopped ones in flavoursome sauces, but my daughter still isn’t easily fooled by this tactic and there are many indignant cries such as “Have you put AUBERGINE in this?” We do make copies of any recipes which are a hit (with any of us) and we have them all stored in a folder – as this collection grows I will also indulge my love of organisation and file them according to type of protein to make meal planning even easier. Happily it is increasing already, but I’m still having to nag about not only having cheese sandwiches for lunch and trying more vegetables without having decided in advance that they will be revolting. Realistically, I suspect pescatarianism won’t last with her for long despite her admirable intentions, but she may return to it when she is older and her taste buds have matured a little.
Happily ever after…?
As for me, I’m happy and I definitely plan to stick with it for the foreseeable future. Discussing my diet with Sarah has raised a few new things I need to consider and I’d love to give up fish when my health improves, but we’ll see. And as for the Christmas turkey hurdle, well, that’s a few months and several trial “replacement” meals away yet…wish us luck!
For the benefit of my meatless mum and everyone else out there who is trying to get more Omega 3 rich oily fish into their diet – 15 ways of eating oily fish, plus all your oily fish nutrition questions answered…