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30 days as a pescetarian: what I learned

I’ve gone 34 (today is 35) days without eating meat. It’s been an interesting month, and I’ve had a lot of questions from people about why I decided to do this.

At first, it was just an experiment. Meat is delicious, right? I grew up eating meat, and while I never ate a lot of it, I still love burgers (mmmm In-n-Out), roast beef dinners, duck, and everything in between. But then I slowly started watching documentaries and doing research on everything from cruelty to the farm animals we eat (including pumping them full of hormones and chemicals), to the link between red meat and cancer and heart disease (my family has a history of heart problems). And while I am a natural skeptic, it’s pretty hard to argue against science like that. Combine that with the desire I already had to overhaul my food consumption, and the March Pescetarian Challenge was born. :)

Here are my results:

  • Lost 4 pounds. Although to be fair, I don’t know how much of that was from eating less meat, or increasing my exercise.
  • My skin looks healthier, and less oily.
  • I have more energy. Getting up at 5:30 for my morning run is never a problem, and I’m not as tired in the evenings when I come home from work.
  • I’m eating way more often (but trying to be healthy about it).

For the most part, I ate vegetarian for 75% of my meals. I think the key for me (and my budget) wasn’t to replace meat with fish, but to eliminate meat, and continue to eat fish as often as I had been before. My boyfriend was also supportive of my change in diet. He stopped cooking meat when I was around (except for that one time he cooked massive quantities of maple bacon, and my house smelled delicious all day), and he has also started to examine his red meat intake as well.

Over the last month, I learned a lot about myself. Like, how to control cravings: when all I want is a big, juicy burger, how can I convince myself to eat an eggplant instead? And that quitting meat had no real impact on my life, aside from losing weight and having more energy. That surprised me. I thought I’d have to make tough food decisions and maybe even decline dinners out. But every restaurant had something delicious I could eat – I wasn’t stuck just nibbling on a crappy salad. And I always felt full.

I also found that I was a lot more conscious of what I was eating. Breakfast used to be 2 eggs and toast. Now, it’s a green smoothie. My go-to snack used to be potato chips. Now, I love making kale chips. Of course, these healthier choices often come with a price tag. For the most part, fish is more expensive than meat. And consuming so many fruits/vegetables is more expensive than eating cheap carbs. Still, I’m pretty sure I can continue to eat like this, while staying within my regular monthly food budget.

This has been an interesting experiment, and I don’t know what I’m going to do going forward, but I’m 95% sure I’m going to continue a pescetarian lifestyle. At least through until the end of April. It will be hard to say no to my mom’s amazing roast beef dinners, or my dad’s honey-glazed duck, and I’m not exactly sure how I’ll deal with the temptation of the food in Las Vegas when I’m there in May (am I really going to say no to a burger from In-n-Out?) … but for now, I’m not craving meat at all. And I feel so much better, lighter, and energetic. :)

Here are a few pictures of the food I’ve eaten over the month:

6 ways to make your instant noodles tastier

Ramen will never be the healthiest thing to eat, but it’s definitely cheap.

Even when you go to a real ramen noodle house where they make their own noodles in-house, a great bowl probably won’t cost you more than $5-7. But most people eat packaged instant ramen from the grocery store because they’re short on cash or too lazy to make anything else to eat. For me? It’s comfort food. I love ramen, and I also love experimenting with different ways to make packaged instant ramen tastier.

Here are my 6 favourite ways to turn a cheap meal into a tastier one:

  1. Add egg. You can add this in a variety of different ways – hardboiled and sliced, soft boiled, fried, poached … but my favourite is the egg-drop method. All you have to do is crack a raw egg into your pot of noodles (or you can lightly beat the egg in a separate small bowl and then pour it into the pot of noodles). Then, swirl and mix the egg, noodles, and broth. As you mix the broth, the egg should start to separate and cook. Delicious!
  2. Frozen vegetables. Almost all of us have a bag of those mixed frozen veggies siting in our freezer. Toss a cup of them into the broth for an instant flavour boost. I like doing this in combination with adding an egg. :)
  3. Bok choy or spinach. I love throwing in either bok choy (Chinese cabbage) or spinach into the broth. The spash of green makes the soup more visually appealing, and adding fresh vegetables to a meal is never a bad thing.
  4. Thinly sliced meat. Think Vietnamese pho soup. You can either throw it into the pot raw (it should be sliced extremely thin – so it cooks in just a few seconds), but it’s probably easier just to chuck any sort of leftover meat like chicken, steak, pork, sausage, and yep, even fish.
  5. Peanut butter. Yeah this may sound weird – I was really skeptical at first. But if you just stir in a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter (make sure you mix it in good, so that it’s completely blended into the broth), all of a sudden your broth tastes like pad thai! Well, it’s pretty close. And the added dollop of peanut butter will keep you full longer.
  6. Stir fry. Have you ever tried to stirfry your instant noodles? It’s pretty tasty and a good way to change it up if you’re not feeling like soup. Try cooking some veggies (add meat if you want) in a pan. Then cook the noodles in a pot until they’re almost done. Drain the water out, and add the noodles to the pan. You can use whatever sauce you want. I like cooking the veggies and meat in half the seasoning package, and then sprinkling the other half on the noodles as I’m just about to cook them in the pan.
Another thing I’ve seen done in ramen noodle houses is to add cheese to the broth. :| I tried it once in downtown Vancouver at Kintaro (see the middle picture below), and while it was interesting, I didn’t like it and ended up removing most of the cheese. Still, it’s worth a mention because it seems to be a really popular thing to do.

What tricks do you have for making instant noodles tastier?

Inside my grocery bag

On my last trip to the grocery store, I spent $45.67, and here’s what I bought:

Produce (Asian grocery store) – $15.81
– 4 bananas
– 2 peppers (red & green)
– 2 onions (red & white)
– 5 oranges
– 1 peach
– 1 mango
– 2 cucumbers
– 2.5 pounds of potatoes
– garlic
– mushrooms
– 1 bunch of carrots

 

Safeway – $29.86
– 1 loaf of bread
– 1 bag of chips
– 6 spinach wraps
– 1/2 dozen eggs
– 1 jar of pasta sauce
– 2 bags of bagels
– 11 chicken thighs (11 servings = 5+ meals)

For those that are curious, in my quest to spend $100 this month in groceries, I’m up to $89.47 for the month. The food pictured above will last me until the end of the month. With the extra $10 left in my budget, I’ll probably buy more fresh fruits and vegetables sometime next week, but other than that I don’t need anything else. I have enough bread and meat to last me well into August.

The majority of my money has been spent at a local Asian grocery store within walking distance to my townhouse. Anything else was purchased at either Safeway (ugh) or Real Canadian Superstore.

During the past 3 weeks, I have made simple, healthy meals – like steamed vegetables and quinoa, pasta, hummus and pita with cucumber, and spinach salads. Breakfast is also pretty simple: a slice of toast with Nutella, and a piece of fruit. I also make sure to pack my lunch for work each day, which usually includes leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, and raw vegetables or fruit to snack on – usually whatever is on sale.

A really easy, cheap thing to make is homemade pizza. Because I already had the ingredients to make the crust from scratch, I only had to spend $5.88 on deli meat and fresh produce. The pizza was so big that I was able to make full 4 meals out of it. That’s $1.47 per meal!

While this grocery challenge was meant to prove to myself that I could reduce my spending on food for the month, my main goal is always to try to eat healthy meals. I generally only eat meat once or twice a week – not because of this challenge specifically, but because that has always been my lifestyle. This significantly cuts down on the cost of my grocery bill, which leaves me with more room in my budget to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables that I enjoy.

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