Eating Vegan During a Working Day

I am not a vegan, purely for genetic reasons – I don’t thrive on a 100% vegan diet. However, I make a conscious decision to never eat meat or fish if I have to grab lunch when I’m out and I’m committed to sticking to wild or organic animal products at home.

I am concerned about the huge amount of meat currently being consumed and destroying not only the environment, but our health, and I am looking forward to seeing my friends and family take up the Veganuary challenge with me. I’ll be helping them plan a proper vegan diet ­– plenty of greens, a rainbow of vegetables, seeds, nuts, wholegrains, herbs and spices – so they can see the immediate results of following one, which in my experience are boundless energy, no mid-afternoon slumps in the afternoon, better hormone balance and a more balanced mood.

I work fairly long, haphazard hours, I am often running around London all day and am often not sure when I will be able to eat my next meal, so I have had to work out a strategy to make sure I can sustain myself on the move.  Carrying food around with me is often difficult. But I will say this – if you do have time to make your own food, then do so.  You’ll have a much broader range of foods suitable for your tastes.  Keep basics such as oats, plant-based milks, seasonings and oils at work if you have the facilities. It’s even better if you can store items in your work fridge.   Avoid the microwave.

You can also invest in a food thermos and some decent insulating tupperware (non-BPA of course) and you can eat like a king. It just takes a bit of preparation.   Maybe a little batch cooking on a Sunday; it’s winter, so this is a great time to start getting into the habit.  If you don’t own a slow cooker, get (a ceramic) one – this will make your life much easier for preparing hearty lentil and vegetable stews.

I want to focus on those days when you don’t have time to prepare your own food.  London has an incredible variety of possibilities for any vegan, other cities significantly fewer if you rely on omnipresent food chains.  Don’t expect to save money if you buy food out – it’s always more expensive, vegan or otherwise.

If you are doing Veganuary, then I would urge you to make an effort to try places that really cater to vegans. The Happy Cow, Vegman and VeganXpress apps and websites are very useful for helping you find places that serve and stock the kind of foods you will want to try. If you work in Central London, perhaps try Rawligion, Redemption, Vantra, Veggie Pret, Planet Organic or the Wild Food Cafe.

The Veganuary site has a great resource to help you look up what options you have in food chains, although it is worth asking when you get to the store about new additions, because Leon currently offer a vegan bean and avocado breakfast pot and a vegan smoothie. Most chains now offer great breakfast options, such as acai bowls or porridge made with water or soy milk.  Pret do a good variety of vegan-friendly breakfasts but do not cater for the gluten-free vegan at all, plus the soup choices at lunch are a lot more limited.

Pod (my favourite) does a mean bean and avocado rice dish – just make sure that you ask for it without the dollop of yogurt. Crush do some great salad pots (although you have to buy a few in order to fill you up) and both Crush and EAT do vegetable-based broths, but they aren’t very edible.  Any Mexican place such as Benito’s Hat or Chilango will be able to fill a burrito with vegetables, rice, guacamole and beans.  If in doubt, ask to check the list of ingredients for whatever it is you are considering buying.

I’ve already spoken to the managers in a number of chains, including Pret a Manger, EAT and Pod about the lack of vegan options on the menu.  This lack of choice will change if the demand is there, they say.  What worries me is that because there is a lack of vegan or vegetarian options, people have become used to not having the choice and eating meat or fish at practically every meal has become the norm for our generation, which is strange because many of our parents ate meat and fish once a week at most.

I’ve tweeted M & S out of frustration because when you are making a conscious effort to eat vegan and gluten-free, your options are pretty limited if you don’t want to break the bank by buying a million salad and seed separates and combining them to make a meal that will actually fill you up.   If you can do this because you have a fridge to store your bits, then this is actually a good option.  M & S think they are offering enough options.

From a nutrition perspective, vegan does not always equal healthy.  I see a lot of  vegans overdoing it on the grains and nuts and wondering why they are putting on weight and feeling tired.   A standard vegan diet in the UK seems to be cereal and plant-based milk (often an over reliance on soy milk), a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner.  A lot of people worry too much about not eating enough protein when they should be focusing on increasing their phytonutrient intake to up to 50% of your plate.  If you aren’t doing this, start focusing on this now.

 

Easy vegan hacks:

  • Greens are very high in protein, particularly peas, spinach and asparagus.
  • Sprinkle seeds on everything! I like a blend of chia, hemp, flax, sesame and sunflower seeds, preferably sprouted.
  • Eat quinoa if you need a grain base or have lentils and beans as a proportion of your dish as these are high in protein.
  • Roasted vegetables travel well in Tupperware.
  • Eat fermented soy such as tempeh or natto with stir fries or scramble silken tofu.
  • Use your food thermos.
  • Always pair carbohydrates (e.g. fruit snacks) with protein or fat to keep your blood sugar balanced to avoid those energy slumps.
  • Marinate and season your vegetables with spices, herbs and gorgeous infused oils so your taste buds don’t start screaming with boredom.

 

Eat properly in the morning to avoid making poor food choices later.  Make sure your breakfast is a mighty feast – I eat milled buckwheat, sprouted oats and seeds in my acai bowl.  My post-workout smoothie always contains a ton of greens, coconut water, half an avocado or banana and a pea, brown rice or hemp protein (Pulsin make great ones) so that by the time I get home and when it gets to dinner time, I can eat light.