Hello best health seekers!
Want to immediately boost your health and vitality? Maybe you’re thinking of transitioning to a vegetarian diet or going vegan but aren’t ready to commit fully. Why not take the 7 Day Vegetarian Challenge? You’ll give your diet a needed hit of nutrition and learn new eating skills, recipe and habits that you’ll keep forever.
What is the 7 Day Vegetarian Challenge?
For 7 days eat a diet exclusively of non-meat foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and seeds. Doing this will turn the standard American diet on its head. American eating habits on average consist of 63% processed foods, 25% meat, and only 12% fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes (but half of this last category is french fries). This way of eating is horribly unhealthy and we see its consequences in high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and chronic kidney disease, among others. Changing these numbers can only help reverse this terrible trend. If this is your diet, definitely do the 7 Day Vegetarian Challenge!
While you can be an unhealthy vegetarian – I have a vegetarian friend who lives on pizza, fries and beer – odds are that if you are vegetarian, you have a better shot at living longer and with less health problems than the rest of Americans. For instance, the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California are predominantly vegetarian and they live on average 10 years longer than the rest of us. They have much lower rates of cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease – just to name a few. They live in remarkable health. Their eating habits? Vegetarian, with a focus on whole foods over processed foods.
What are whole foods?
Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, and are free from additives or other artificial substances like preservatives, emulsifiers, conditioners and artificial or natural flavors before being consumed.
Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses (aka beans), nuts, seeds, tubers, and whole grains. All of this is vegetarian.
Everything else is not a whole food. See my article What are Whole Foods? to get a good understanding of whole foods.
The benefits of plant-based whole foods are amazing:
- Cancer prevention
- Beating heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing and reversing diabetes
- Prevention of gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis
- Asthma prevention
- Better digestion
- Most sustainable diet for the planet
In the Kitchen
During the Vegetarian Challenge, plant-based foods should be your focus for every bite that goes into your mouth.
Eggs and Dairy. While vegetarianism is considered completely plant-based, in practice a lot of vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products. Even the long-living Seventh Day Adventists eat eggs and dairy. Feel free to include these. If you want to be strict and abstain completely from any products from animals, that would be veganism. That’s certainly an option and since eggs and dairy are both allergens for some people, going the vegan route my help you diagnose allergies or sensitivities you didn’t know you had.
Whole Foods. While a truly healthy vegetarian diet would center around whole foods and avoid processed foods for best nutrition, if you’re like most Americans who eat 63% processed food and 26% meat, going totally whole foods during your Vegetarian Challenge might be biting off more than you can chew. Still, if you can make whole foods at least 70% of everything that goes into your mouth and pass on processed foods like boxed meals and kits, frozen meals, most heat and serve meals, and fast food, you will drastically improve the nutritional content of your food and give your body what it needs to function optimally.
Non-Meat Substitutes. New vegetarians often find it difficult living without their usual meats. If this is you, try food products like veggie sausage and veggie mince, available at decent prices at most grocery stores. While the taste isn’t exactly like regular sausage or ground beef or pork, the savoriness of them tends to hit the spot and will help in a pinch. You can usually find all sorts of veggie substitutes from your veggie burger patties to fake chicken strips in both the produce and frozen foods aisle.
Why 7 Days?
One week isn’t a large commitment and is easy to plan. Plus you won’t feel overwhelmed by learning a ton of new recipes or feel like you’re completely giving up your eating lifestyle for good – though, hey, if you like the changes and the benefits, please continue!
Seven days are good for dipping your toes into a vegetarian or even vegan diet, learning new recipes and eating patterns, and can help you transition to eating healthier overall. And besides, who doesn’t enjoy a new challenge to get excited about?
Whenever we try something new or try to change habits, we should remind ourselves of a few things:
Firstly, we’ve been doing things a certain way for a while. When it comes to food, we’ve trained our bodies and minds to like what we’re already doing. When we try new foods, we may go into withdrawal from the removal of our usual foods. That and our gut biomes have adapted to our old eating habits and will undergo a shift when our foods change. Most people don’t realize this and think their body is reacting negatively to the new foods when really, it’s mostly withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve ever tried to give up coffee or colas for a week, you know what I’m taking about! The same is true for sugar, flour, meat, etc. Use this week to learn how addicted your body is to your current way of eating. You might find it eye-opening.
Secondly, we are creatures of habit. Don’t expect to like or love all the food recipes. If you’ve never tried something before, try it with an open mind. Think of this week as a way to experience new foods or find new recipes to incorporate into your meal rotation. See it as a fun exercise, not a drag, and you’ll have better results.
Thirdly, when we take on a food challenge, the experience is usually new. The recipes will take longer to organize and prep simply because you haven’t spent years making them. In time the ingredients and recipes become second nature and you can modify them as easily as your current meal rotations. Expect the learning curve rather than be upset by it. Most of these recipes are quick and easy for beginners.
Fourthly, food is culture. If your family and friends are meat lovers who have never seen a vegetable they didn’t hate, you may feel peer pressure over your new food selections or feel tempted to cheat and eat like normal. Remember that this is only a week-long challenge. If others tell you to cheat or give you grief, you can point out gently:
- Your health issues if you have any
- Any health issues in your family
- That you are trying to alleviate or prevent any health issues
- And that you could really use support since this isn’t easy
Many people if approached this way will be more considerate and helpful, especially if you tell them you don’t expect them to eat like you (some immediate family members will fear any food changes). Accept this and remember that you are the only person who can truly make the changes you want. Respect and love yourself enough to try what you’re wanting to do, no matter what others think.
All this said, we’re human and we get cravings. Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse during the challenge, just continue on with the next meal and be proud for what you do follow. Also, try not to make the challenge impossible by scheduling it around holidays. Only the most willful and possibly masochistic can survive holidays and their associated foods. On the flip side, if you’re trying to give up the excesses of the holidays, by all means, use this challenge as an excuse!
Now onto the nuts and bolts.
How It Works
The 7 Day Vegetarian Challenge is pretty straight-forward. You’ll be eating plant-based meals for a week. To do that:
- Pick a week to do the 7 Day Vegetarian Challenge.
- Make room in your fridge and in your mental space for the change.
- Plan out and organize your meals for the week for best results. Design them with your family or friends for added support and team-building if they’re willing.
- Make your grocery list.
- Buy the food.
- Prepare the meals yourself or for best results, with your family. Healthy food habits are teachable moments, as is food preparation. Children can’t learn healthy food habits if not exposed to them or taught the recipes. Cooking together means time together. Make cooking social.
- Eat and enjoy – the more the merrier!
7 Day Vegetarian Challenge Recipe Suggestions
It’s easiest to enjoy the challenge and keep with it if you include meals you already like that are vegetarian or whole foods based. Love your green bean casserole or cheddar mashed potatoes? Bust them out this week!
Organize around meals such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. We tend to make the same handful of meals so don’t feel like every single meal for the week must be new and original. That gets expensive and stressful fast because you have to buy a larger variety of food and learn too many new recipes you may not be at all familiar with. Also, why waste any leftovers?
Check out the recommended week-long plan and more general pantry list so you can take the challenge and run with it. Feel free to mix and match however you like to make this challenge your own! Don’t like these suggestions? Check out these easy beginner vegetarian recipes and 18 vegetarian lunch ideas for inspiration.
Now onto the week’s meal plan!
7 Day Vegetarian Challenge Meal Plan
Breakfast: oatmeal with fruit and nuts
Lunch: Mediterranean chickpea salad
Dinner: bean and guac tacos
Snacks/Dessert: Fruit and nuts; Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bake Cookies
Breakfast: Grapes and walnuts with yogurt
Lunch: Avocado and tomato salad
Dinner: Tomato Coconut Cauliflower Curry
Snacks: Yellow squash dippers and hummus
Breakfast: Strawberry, banana, spinach, coconut milk smoothie
Lunch: Tomato soup with avocado and cucumber salad
Snack: Dark chocolate or handful of mixed nuts
Dinner: 10 Minute Quesadillas
Breakfast: Eggs scrambled with spinach; Optional: avocado toast, fruit on the side
Lunch: Walnut and beet salad with feta
Dinner: Ginger veggie stir fry
Snack: Olives and stuffed peppers from the grocery store olive bar – or anything from the olive bar
Dessert: Bananas with chopped nuts drizzled with honey or chocolate
Breakfast: Fruit bowl of strawberries and banana
Lunch: White bean salad
Dinner: Broccoli, Cheddar and Quinoa Gratin
Snack: Red pepper hummus with cucumber dippers
Breakfast: Breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and salsa; Optional egg substitution: scrambled tofu
Lunch: Lentil soup with avocado and tomato salad
Dinner: Gnocchi with zucchini; Optional: make it sweet potato gnocchi if you can find or make it
Snack: Pecan-stuffed dates
Breakfast: Chocolate croissant (hey, one day of being decadent is nice, right?); Substitute blueberries and oatmeal
Lunch: Red lentil salad with feta
Dinner: Classic Minestrone Soup
Dessert: Baked apples drizzled with honey and nuts
If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, feel free to find ones that do! Curries, stir fries, soups and stews make for hearty eating. Mexican foods like burritos and tacos can easily be made vegetarian. Why not give them a try? So many recipe resources exist on the internet to find these and more. My favorite is allrecipes.com.
In order to cook a vegetarian diet, it’s helpful to know how to stock your pantry. This is a general list, so don’t think this is your shopping list for the challenge. These ingredients can make up a fantastic pantry for eating healthy and deliciously:
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Nuts – walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds
Olive, sesame or coconut oil
White or apple vinegar
White and red cooking wine
Canned or dried white beans, chick peas, lentils, black beans
Fresh or canned diced tomatoes
Yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.
Spinach, kale, greens
Rice, barley, buckwheat, oats
Tofu and tempeh
And while I don’t necessarily recommend processed foods or ingredients with gluten or other allergens due to health effects, many vegetarian pantries also include:
Cheese of all types
Pasta of all types
While fresh and from scratch is best, let’s face it, not everyone has the time or willingness. Here are time savers and substitutions:
- Instant oatmeal and cream of wheat
- Canned beans and vegetables: drain and rinse them though
- Frozen vegetables and fruit
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Store-made guacamole, salsa and hummus
A Week of Healthy Eating
And there you have it – everything you need to know to take the 7 Day Vegetarian Challenge! Hopefully you will enjoy the foods and the benefits they quickly bring in terms of better health, energy levels, mental clarity, sleep and digestion, and a range of others. If you enjoy these foods and their benefits, why not permanently include these and other deliciously healthy meals in your routine?
Good luck with the challenge and happy eating!
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