Nadiya Hussain challenges her family to cut out meat and dairy for two weeks and reveals how they got on with a vegan diet...
You can imagine the look on my kids’ faces when I announced, ‘Guys, we’re going vegan for a week – maybe even two if you’re lucky!’ The resounding silence was a sure sign that they weren’t impressed. My youngest son asked me, ‘What is being vegan?’, so I explained that it meant stripping out all animal products from our diets, including honey and eggs. After explaining in as much detail as I could (with a little help from a search engine), they were up for the challenge. I was looking forward to trying something new. As a family, we’d been feeling tired, sluggish and a little out of sorts – I felt like we needed to recharge, and this was the way to do it.
It wasn’t long before I started to feel restricted. I’ve always cooked fresh meals for my family, but I realised when I went food shopping – almost picking up butter and eggs – that so much of what we ate contained animal products. This encouraged me to find alternatives, such as using flaxseed instead of eggs, and coconut oil instead of butter. We even discovered new ingredients like tempeh, which is meat substitute made from fermented soy beans (sounds weird but tastes delicious). Fried, it gave us the meaty texture we were craving.
We found that we could still eat most of our favourite family meals, including lentil curries with flatbreads and mushroom bhajis, and Bolognese made with soy mince. The whole family was eating more vegetables and pulses, and felt full of energy. The one thing the kids really missed, however, was fish fingers. I managed to find Quorn Fishless Fingers (it’s amazing what comes up when you search for vegan food online), and we love them so much that they’re always included in our weekly food shop. I thought the kids would be gasping for a chicken drumstick or sausages, but all they wanted was eggs and soldiers. Despite my fruitless efforts to find one, there’s no substitute for that.
Since our two weeks of living as a vegan family, we’ve cut out cow’s milk completely and switched to drinking soya milk. We still enjoy eating meat, but the experience has made me realise that we eat more than we need. As a compromise, we decided to eat vegetarian meals during the week and only eat meat over the weekend. That way, we have more balanced diets.
I never expected my 11-, 10- and seven-year-olds to understand supply and demand, but they do believe that, even if we can’t change the world, we can do our bit. I don’t know if we’ll ever give up meat completely, but this experience has given us all new appreciation for animals and for vegan foods.
Top tips for going vegan
1. Talk to someone who is already vegan. The best information and the truth about what it’s like can only come from someone who is experiencing it and living it.
2. Speak to a doctor. Changing your diet dramatically can really affect you, so it’s always best to seek medical advice first.
3. You don’t have to get the kids involved, but if it’s a short-term thing, I’d recommend trying it. Exploring a new way of eating can be a lot of fun.
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