Why would Ginger Snaps and I–two die-hard meat lovers–attempt a vegetarian weekend? How did we not kill each other in the process? Let’s chat.

Why we chose a vegetarian weekend

Ginger Snaps and I are always interested in finding new ways to eat healthier and feel better. We’re not weight-loss people–that’s never really been our goal–but we generally don’t want to feel like crap. I’ve been writing for a couple of different health food companies recently, and in my research, I’ve read about the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet. The diet is particularly beneficial for people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other inflammation-related conditions, of which I am cursed.

Around the same time that I was considering whether going meat-free might help me feel better–and lamenting the fact that Ginger Snaps would never go for it–we watched an episode of The Fix on the environment. In it, they mentioned that if everyone went vegan tomorrow, CO2 emissions would go down about 70%.

Ginger Snaps rolled over in bed, gave me a mournful look, and said, “we should cut out meat, huh?”

And I said, “Let’s just try it. Maybe for a weekend.”

Limitations of the Weekend

We had our conversation on a Thursday, and in typical us fashion, decided to implement that same Friday. That said, we hadn’t purchased anything to help us have a vegetarian weekend, and we already had plans to go to my brother’s Saturday night. So Friday morning was going to be a bust, and so was Saturday night. But even knowing that, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to get through the weekend.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention this: We don’t really cook. GS does most of our kitchen prep, and his skills start with frozen pizza and end around the zone of chili mac. I don’t cook at all if I can help it. I can follow a recipe, but that’s about it. When my mom will try to teach me a recipe–“It’s so easy, you just have to XYZ”–my eyes glaze over at around the second step. It’s just not my thing.

And Ginger Snaps was honest from the beginning: He was willing to try a vegetarian weekend, but I had to be the one to cook or he wouldn’t be able to resist throwing meat into our recipes.

Thrown into the deep end

Step one when you’re trying something new? Contact someone who’s already done it.

I IM’d my sister, a long-time vegan (and even longer-time vegetarian) in a panic. “Send me recipes!” I demanded. “They have to taste good, and they have to fill the belly of a man who can eat an entire frozen pizza by himself, and I have to be able to cook them in less than half an hour. And I’d rather not spend a fortune.”

I didn’t have high expectations or anything.

Somewhere in the midst of having her own freaking life (on a weekday–how dare she!), she managed to send me a link to one recipe, one website, and a vlog called Cheap, Lazy Vegan. Armed with that and Pinterest, I collected a weekend’s worth of recipes, planned meals, and we tried it out.

Friday

Okay, technically the weekend starts on Saturday, but since we knew we were going away Saturday night, we figured we’d start–as much as we could with what we had in the house–on Friday. It was, by far, the hardest day of the three.

Breakfast

As I said earlier, we decided to try the vegetarian weekend on Thursday night, so Friday was a little bit of a mess. We hit up Dunkin for breakfast and grabbed a Power Breakfast Sandwich with no sausage. It tasted like cardboard, which is pretty much how we expected the weekend to go. GS and I exchanged deep sighs and settled in for a loooong weekend.

Lunch

GS and I have never been huge lunch eaters during the week anyway. I think he had a couple of apples with peanut butter for lunch, and I had some crackers with cheese and and apple for mine. No big change there.

Dinner

Dinner was our first home-cooked recipe: spinach and artichoke pasta, which I found on a website called Budget Bytes. Fun fact–I got a lot of my recipes for the weekend on Budget Bytes. ‘Cause, you know, I’m cheap.

The food was…okay. Ginger Snaps said, “It tastes like exactly what’s in it. It’s missing a sauce. And chorizo.”

In my opinion, the sauce was fine, but it WAS missing a protein. We were starving an hour after eating it. Two hours after eating it, we both grabbed bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and exchanged “this isn’t working” looks.

Saturday

Friday hadn’t gone great, but I was feeling optimistic Saturday morning. I had picked out some recipes that, though meatless, at least seemed to be in our flavor palette. Ginger Snaps was less optimistic. He’d already decided on our first meat-full meal: After the weekend was up, he wanted full-meat chili mac.

Basically, if we were going to stick with the diet, Saturday had to be better than Friday.

Breakfast

I had prepped breakfast the night before: Overnight oats, enough to last us Saturday and Sunday morning both. I went for a no sugar added blueberry almond recipe, also from Budget Bytes.

In fairness to the lady who wrote the recipe: I didn’t have almonds. I thought we did, so I didn’t buy any, and then when I went to put the recipe together, I found out GS had chucked them the week before. Recipe fail.

And the recipe DID fail. The liquid-oatmeal ratio seemed way off, the texture was weird, and it took GS and I each an hour to eat our portions, our hunger the only thing keeping us slogging forward.

Lunch

Guys, I was nervous about lunch. I hadn’t been nervous about anything before, but I was nervous about lunch.

I’d selected a Buffalo Tempeh Sandwich (again, Budget Bytes) because Buffalo sauce was in our wheelhouse and because I was attempting to sample as many plant-based protein sources over the weekend as possible. But when I asked my (vegan) sister about Tempeh, she said “It’s an acquired taste.”

We all know what that means. Coffee, beer, wine–acquired tastes are things that taste gross the first 50 times you try them, that you only keep trying because your friends tell you it’s cool.

But here’s the thing: It was freaking GOOD. I shared the recipe on my Facebook account later, and Ginger Snaps and I both agreed that we needed to have it again–soon. It was also the first meal of the weekend to fill us up. Score!

Dinner

We went to my brother’s house for dinner–we were celebrating my sister-in-law’s birthday–and ate pizza. We both grabbed one slice of pepperoni (vegetarian fail) and one slice of veggie. Later, we both agreed that the veggie was better and we probably could have just stuck to our guns. Live and learn.

Sunday

Sunday we both got up feeling a little more optimistic than we’d felt on Saturday. The tempeh sandwich had renewed our trust in the system. But we had to get through the weird, watery overnight oats…again.

Breakfast

I think the chia seeds had more time to sop up the excess fluid or something, but the overnight oats were better the second day. They weren’t GREAT–I’ve found a lot of recipes since then that I like way more–but we ate them, and they were fine.

Lunch

Lunch came in the form of BBQ Tofu Sliders (also Budget Bytes. They might have been all we ate all weekend, now that I’m looking at it).

Now, my sister has been vegetarian for almost as long as she’s been my sister, and I enjoy food, so I’ve had tofu before. My analysis has always been that it’s fine, but the texture is kind of slimy and not my favorite.

Similarly, the tofu sliders were fine, but it took me about 5 bites to get past the texture. Ginger Snaps, on the other hand, dug right in. He said he liked it even better than the buffalo tempeh. I said I’d probably make it with tempeh next time. He said the tofu was fine and I should stop making faces.

I’ll probably make it with tempeh next time.

Dinner

The final meal in our vegetarian weekend: Mushroom Herb Pasta. When I picked recipes out on Friday, it had seemed very different from the artichoke/spinach pasta. When I started cooking it, it felt very similar.

Learning from Saturday’s mistakes–namely, from the fact that mushrooms are not a filling enough protein source for GS and I, at least at this point in our journey–I added garbanzo beans to the meal, plus a bunch of veggies. This one had a sauce. It was actually REALLY good. Per Ginger Snaps, it tasted good enough that it was probably bad for us, and we shouldn’t eat it again. Score one for vegetarians.

Honest Review

So, how did we feel after our vegetarian weekend?

First off, we ate meat again on Monday (Ken got his chili mac). But we also agreed that, once we got past the initial rough patch, the weekend wasn’t actually that hard. And my arthritis was basically gone by the end of the weekend. 10,000 points to the vegetarian diet.

So Are You Guys Vegetarians Now?

Short answer? No, not really. Not yet.

I’m still cooking dinner every night, and meal prepping for our mornings. And we’re no longer buying meat-based protein sources for our home. We’ve been trying a LOT of vegetarian recipes. We’re even learning how to experiment with plant-based protein sources and make them our own.

Neapolitan Overnight Oats were a LOT of work. They’re also my new favorite thing ever. SO GOOD. They’re legit as good as ice cream, and you can eat them for breakfast. This is our new Saturiday morning staple.

But we’re not vegetarian. We have family dinner twice a week, it always includes a meat, and we eat it. And there’s still meat in our freezer, and I’m sure one day I’ll thaw it out and use it.

There’s nothing strict about what we’re doing, and we don’t feel a need to label it. But, in general, I feel better on days we only eat plant products. And Ginger Snaps was the one, after we got through the weekend, who suggested we try to keep up with it, if only to encourage us to use lots of veggies and cook in.

Like every family, we’re doing what works for us for now. What that looks like could change. But if you are looking to go vegetarian and are worried about how difficult it will be, I’d encourage you to give it the old college try. A vegetarian weekend put into perspective for GS and me both what we were willing to do and what we weren’t willing to do for now.

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