Such a GLAM title to come into 2018 with, no? Well, here I am, back at the desk of Guac. It’s been a while since my last post, namely because I’ve been working on a few other projects outside of Guac - but I’m super happy to be writing this, and to be back speaking to you on this little corner of the internet. I have some FUN Guac projects in the works for 2018, and I hope to update you with great things happening in London’s vegan food scene, new spring recipes and some other guides to vegan cooking soon. All in good time.
No More Takaways
What’s with the title? Well, I know it’s a step away from my usual recipe suggestions and travel guides. But after a total ride of a year in 2017 that included a lot of big ups and downs (hate to sound like a cliche but it really did!), I’ve been taking a bit of a step back for the new year - something I prefer to do instead of making a lot of HUGE resolutions in January. As an alternative, I like to spend December through to February seeing if I can improve aspects of my life, and letting them sink in. I don’t always get it right, and the changes don’t always stick, but I find it more valuable that crashing and burning in a pile of broken resolutions by the second week of January.
In any case, my main resolution this year is to eat better. I am guessing that could sound ironic coming from someone that writes about food, no less VEGAN food. But if you know me, you’ll know in the past few years I got way too into takeaways and eating conveniently - looking back now, I think it's fair to call it an eating rut. It’s a real Catch 22 of being vegan in a city: if you can’t be bothered to eat from scratch, takeaways are a very easy option for food you only need to open an app for.
It got too easy. I was eating two takeaways a week, getting too hungover, and using food as WAY too much of an emotional eating thing for feeling bad after drinking too much or just being tired. It’s not great to use food like that too often. I ended up in a bit of a cycle of feeling like I didn’t have time to buy food or cook for myself, so I’d just order in again, or buy processed food from the 24 hour shops nearby. So I'd never have any food in that I'd planned for, and the cycle begins again… £11 in Pret at lunch, £28 on a takeaway for two, on and on…
Now, I’m so far from believing in a prescriptive attitude to diet - I hate when people use ‘should’ in sentences about food. Do what you want and what makes you happy! But eating all of that processed food and all of those takeaways did NOT make me feel good AT ALL. As fun and necessary as treating yourself is, I would eat when I was SUPER hungry until I was super full, then feel really low for another 12 hours until I’d want another takeaway. Food doesn’t have to be like that, and if you can afford to regularly spend £15 on yourself for one meal, you can afford to eat pretty well on a much more regular basis.
What I’m finding is it just takes a bit of time and investment. Which is where this blog post comes in... I know it won't resonate with everyone, but if it sounds like a familiar scenario to you, I thought I'd write up some of my ideas on breaking out of these habits, and maybe help someone else too.
What I’m Trying To Achieve
I’m not doing this to lose a load of weight or as a way of dieting specifically - I’m just doing this as a bit of a re-set. I’m 30 next year, and after some of the harder points of 2017, I realised treating yourself well is the best thing you can do for yourself and for the people around you. So for the past two months, I’ve been attempting to cook my food at home as much as possible, cutting down on takeaways, lunchtimes out, breakfasts bought on the go at a HUGE mark-up from Pret et al, and drunken munchies on the way home that I really don’t need to eat.
Because another thing that’s struck me while taking this change is the sheer volume of money and environmental impact there is on ordering one meal to your house (I’d actually NEVER considered the latter, which is HUGE). I roll my eyes at meal delivery kits with 1 tsp of cayenne measured out in one small plastic pot, but I was effectively ordering even more expensive versions twice a week.
In turn, I hope to have a little more money to actually go out for meals to places I never get to try, spending my money with businesses I share values with, spend valuable time with friends and people I love because I can afford to, and have food experiences I look forward to and treasure afterwards - not something that makes me feel guilty.
How I Feel So Far
I’ve been doing this solidly for one month now, and I feel SO much better in myself. Not in a detox/ overnight change/ 5:2 diet way, but in a way where my mood and attitude towards food are way more regulated. I’m not looking to eat all of my feelings at the end of the day, and I’m back in the kitchen, actually cooking my own food again - something I’ve only recently realised I haven’t been doing for years! I’m researching new recipes, making time to batch cook, planning ahead and feeling loads better towards food.
It might not SOUND radical, but I hope these small changes that I’m letting sink into my every day weeks will really create a huge change over the course of my next years. And in that sense, I thought I’d share the habits I’d adopted, so if they can help you too, then the more the merrier.
I also want to say (yes, this pre-amble is YouTube vlogger length now, hah!), I don’t use these suggestions to the Nth degree- a lot of them just help me along the way. Let me know if they help you too!
And thanks for reading.
Here are my tips. Follow one, follow them all, let me know which ones worked better or not at all - and share any tips you have, please!
1. Keep a Food Calendar
This is like the opposite of a food diary. Instead of recording the calories you ate or feeling guilty about what you had, plan out what you intend to eat. You don’t have to stick to it religiously, but I find this SO great as a guideline. I spend the free time I have at the weekends working out what I can cook for the week ahead, and making sure I have the majority of it in. Then, when it gets to Sunday, I make a big batch of something that will last on to Monday (so you're ready to go for Monday lunchtime). When I’m tired after a day of work, I still know what I can cook from what we have in. And it’s easier not to be tempted to order in when you have food you’ve spent time preparing that could go to waste if you don’t eat it that night.
Sometimes we swap the evenings around - or don’t cook what I’ve suggested at all - but it’s a guideline. I leave Saturday and Sunday clear because we usually have more leftovers by then, or extra vegetables and fruit I’ve picked up in the week, so it allows for that.
I also found the calendar helpful for being mindful about days that aren’t easy to eat well on. I’m freelance, so I can rarely leave food in an office fridge as I’m not usually in the same place two days in a row, and it means I often eat irregularly if I’m working with different clients that day. One of my clients doesn’t have ANY kitchen appliances apart from a fridge (not even a kettle), so over winter, it’s been really hard not being tempted by hot soups from Pret or Leon. By thinking about prior commitments, the calendar helps me spot the days when I won’t be able to reheat leftovers, so I plan a different lunch. I also fill in nights I won’t be home, so the next day I plan a lunch that’s easy to prepare in the morning. It all sounds like obvious stuff, but it adds up!
2. Spend More On Food Ahead Of Time
For real! A good way to start is to actually open up your takeaway apps and look at how much you’ve spent in the past month. Now go to your bank app and look at how much you spend in Pret and coffee chains. Add that to the amount you already spend in supermarkets. This total is YOUR NEW FOOD BUDGET. And I bet it’s a whole lot! I’m just thinking about mine would be….
£3.45 a day in Pret x 3
£29.00 on average per week on a takeaway (if I bought one, and my boyfriend bought one)
£6.00 on one Pret lunch
£40.00 on all the food I buy from supermarkets during the week
Total: £85.35! Just on one person! And that’s not taking into account what you’d spend at the weekend on food.
It’s a very rough calculation, but I know it’s not that far from the truth - let alone if I ate lunch out more than once a week. Now, I would say a decent coffee on the days I’m out and about is a non-negotiable for me, so let’s take £10 off per week on coffee. That’s still £75.00 just for my food. Double it for two people, and you have £150 a week you can now spend in the supermarket! BLOODY HELL!
Reduce all that down a bit and you could spend £100 a week for two people on food and in my opinion, you’d have a lot of great food. The trick I use is not trying to go in too cheap. You need to keep your morale up when you’re making changes to your diet, as it’s so closely aligned with mood. That means making food you’ll actually want to eat. That changes for everyone, but for me personally, that meant spending a bit more on vegan cheese, nice vegan pastries for the weekend, lots of fruit and vegetables in the week, and lots of great salad things (including vegan salad dressing!) so I’d always want to eat my lunches.
Something else to watch - I find I always penny pinch in the supermarket (£5.50 for olive oil? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) but go TO TOWN the minute I feel like I'm treating myself (£4.50 for six mini spring rolls? Let's DO IT!). If buying good ingredients or supplies will dissuade you to break a new resolution, it's worth considering.
Equally, if NOT spending money is your motive, use that too! If you just want to save money, create a food budget you want to stick to, and put the extra cash in a savings account, and let that drive you. THE CHOICE IS YOURS.
3. Cook Ahead
You might feel like you don’t have time to plan all this ahead, but with a little investment of time when you have a free morning or evening after work, you can quite quickly start filling up your freezer and getting used to having a store of food available for when you REALLY don’t have time, or when it comes to the end of the month and a frozen homemade lasagne = a dinner that doesn't cost you anything. It’s all in the prep.
I’d recommend buying a great lunchbox if you don’t have one already - the Sistema ones I use are great for portioning off when you’ve having salad etc, but they leak, so if that’s a no-go for you, shop around.
As an interim measure while I get more used to a life without takeaways, I even stocked up on pre-made curry pastes and sauces. Yes, these are still an expensive way of making what should be a very cheap dinner, but if a £1.00 sauce stops you from spending £23.00, then it’s a very cheap method of distraction. These aren’t for every day - but more like - if I really want something quick and tasty, then I make something that could resemble a home takeaway. A lot of them are also vegan (the butter chicken one, for example, totally vegan), and the Blue Dragon pastes are vegan as they are free from fish sauce - watch for that with other sauces though!
On a similar vibe, working out where your weakness is is really important - mine is always getting good coffee. So I actually UPGRADED that shit. Instead of going to Pret, I now go to Lyle’s in Shoreditch, a Michelin star restaurant no less (dear god I sound painful here - no, they aren't paying me, but they COULD!), and for 30p more, I have ONE FAB oat milk flat white a day, and then I have two more from the office espresso machine for gratis. That way, I’m supporting a business I feel a lot more aligned to, and I’m drinking a not-burned flat white. THERE IS NO DOWNSIDE.
4. Portion Up!
When I graduated and didn’t have any money and only one day of work, I used to be obsessed with having a packed freezer, and it brought me so much JOY. I loved stocking up that thing with soups and stews and ratatouille. And then, over the years, I took my focus off it - I didn’t bother batch cooking, rarely saved leftovers back for myself, and ended with an empty freezer and a basically-always empty bank account (lol, as if that will change).
But now, I am back on that freezer wagon and it’s slowly filling up again. Invest in some decent, sturdy sandwich bags (I find the ones from IKEA are really robust so you can re-use them a lot, meaning it’s not TOO wasteful of plastic), and every time you make something, bulk it out a little so you can make 4 portions instead of two, or 6 instead of 4. It may not be the food that tempts you out of ordering out that night, but if you get it out of the freezer to defrost it at the start of the week, you’ll know you’ve spent some hard hours making that lasagne/stew/curry, and there’s no need to buy more food in when that’s waiting for you. That feeling that I used to have thinking about all the pizza I was going to order after a hungover day at work, I now have thinking about the GREAT pasta bake in the freezer that’s not going to cost me a penny.
In the future, I also plan to be making my Thai green curry paste from scratch, as well as stocks and having them all ready to go in ice cube trays, but that’s for the coming weeks - right now I want to get this first stage right.
5. Focus Your Monayyyy
Similar to the ONE GREAT CUP OF COFFEE A DAY vibe: Work out what you actually want to spend your money on. After totalling up your ACTUAL weekly food spend (all coffee shop, impulse buys and takeaways added in), you might realise you can afford a veg bag, or a weekly online food order (if you live somewhere that’s hard to get hold of frozen vegan products, this could be a helpful move).
For me, I write about food and I eat out a lot - probably twice or three times a week. Not ordering takeaways has meant I’ve started thinking about restaurants and street food stands I actually want to visit and spend my money on.
6. Treat yourself
Not to sound like an old issue of Glamour or whatever but if you decide to cut back on your food budget, it might be the case that you can afford to spend that money elsewhere - I haven’t done this as I want to focus on eating better first - but total up what fits for you - you could buy yourself a kitchen appliance that helps you make the food you want, you could save it for some swanky meals out with people you love, or put it towards eating Italian food IN ACTUAL ITALY or something. Or you could save it or donate to charities you care about. It's up to you. I just found looking objectively at the money I was spending helped motivate me away from spending it.
7. And finally, some recipe suggestions!
I’m not gonna leave you all high and dry!
Here are some meal plan ideas I’ve been using for the past month - the common attributes they share are that I can make them at home and they are easy. I have to say, I have found it much easier preparing food at home now that there are so many vegan products readily available in so many supermarkets. Six years ago there just wasn’t this choice, and I think I started tuning out then. I think it’s all about variety so you don’t get bored - and that's much harder these days! Please suggest away too...
Muesli and fruit
Toasted bagel or simit with vegan cream cheese, cucumber, salt and pepper (wrap it up and take it to work)
PB and J sandwich if you're hungover
Jus-roll pastries for the weekend - take one in a little bag for Mondays
Chopped mango and coconut yoghurt
Salad boxes - prepare 3 portions of protein, carb and vegetables, then mix them in with a great salad dressing, such as:
Something bright and colourful:
Roasted butternut squash, grilled courgette, mashed sweet potato, beetroot hummus, steamed kale, sautéed leek and onion, shredded pickled red cabbage, pomegranate, asparagus, fennel, slices of orange,
Vegan feta cheese, slices of marinated tofu, slices of seitan, falafel
Puy lentils, brown rice, chickpeas,
Cucumber, tomatoes, olives, sweetcorn, watercress, lettuce, a wedge of lemon for extra flavour
Marinated tofu with salad leaves
Vegan cheese with hot sauce and salad
Hummus and roasted vegetables
Sliced vegan chicken burger with vegan mayo and lettuce
Or reheated leftovers from dinner!
Dinner ideas (most of Guac is a dinner suggestion, but here’s some more!) these can all easily be transported and reheated the next day...
Veggie burger with chilli potato wedges and shredded red cabbage
Refried beans, rice, salad, tomato salsa
Potato and spinach curry with rice and salad leaves
Baked sweet potato with grated vegan cheese and baked beans
Thai green curry with rice
Peanut noodles with lots of steamed vegetables
Butternut squash pasta with basil and a spinach pesto dressing
Quiche with vegan sausages, broccoli and sundried tomato
Salad plate of roasted cauliflower, roasted vegetables, focaccia, homemade pesto and chickpeas
Lasagne and salad leaves
One pot spaghetti
Butternut squash cannelloni
Cauliflower, squash and pomegranate tacos
Homemade soup with toast and pesto drizzle
Banh mis with marinated tofu and home-pickled vegetables
Vegan feta, watermelon, mint and red onion salad with pide bread
Spanakopita with tomatoes and lettuce leaves
Pasta salad with blended avocado sauce, broccoli, asparagus and tomatoes