Home Healthy Eating Why “Flexi-February” Is the Easy Way to Embrace a Vegan Diet Without the Restriction

Why “Flexi-February” Is the Easy Way to Embrace a Vegan Diet Without the Restriction

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You might be one of those people who gave Veganuary a shot, and while you enjoyed the challenge throughout January, you know it isn’t something you’ll be keeping up with all year. Firstly, well done for getting through the month. And secondly, you aren’t alone if you find it harder than expected

More and more people are transitioning to a flexitarian diet; research from YouGov found that 20% of people were choosing to reduce their meat intake as part of a flexitarian lifestyle. The diet takes inspiration from veganism by incorporating more plant foods, without eliminating any food groups. That’s why Sophie Nahmad, expert chef at recipe box provider Gousto, has developed five tips and recipes to help you embrace Flexi February. This expert knowledge will help you find food freedom, reap the nutritious rewards of a plant-based diet, and reduce your overall meat consumption. 

How could switching to a vegan diet throughout Veganuary be a challenge? 

Sophie says: “Eating out and visiting friends and family can become difficult when you’re following a plant-based diet. Having to bring alternative options when eating with others, struggling to find restaurants that have sufficient vegan options, and having to check all food labels can be time-consuming and add extra hassle to a busy lifestyle.” 

So why could Veganuary still be a good idea? 

Despite practical challenges, Sophie points out that there are lots of nutritional benefits to veganism: “A plant-based diet often has a lot of fibre, which is helpful if you’re looking to lose weight. Fibrous foods are digested more slowly by the body, so they can help you feel fuller for longer. Fibre is also great for gut health and will aid blood sugar levels, which can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. 

“Nuts and seeds, staples of a vegan or vegetarian diet, are a source of healthy fats, which are great for your skin, hair, and nails, as well as being a good boost for your brain health. Leafy greens, citrus fruits and berries are a great source of antioxidants, helping to keep your cells healthy and protect them from damage.  

“A diet containing lots of plants will generally have a lower saturated fat content, as the main source of this is animal products. Eating more plant-based foods is great for helping to keep your cholesterol levels healthy, which can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.” 

How can going flexitarian help you reap the rewards of a plant-based diet without the restrictions? 

Sophie says: “When it comes to eating a flexitarian diet, start by reducing your overall meat consumption, such as only eating meat at the weekends, or only on two or three days per week. Or you could try to make sure all your breakfasts and lunches follow a vegetarian diet, while your evening meals could be meat-based. A balanced diet is key to helping you feel satisfied. 

“Focus on boosting your meals with lots of plant proteins, such as lentils, beans, pulses, and nuts, rather than processed meats. Nutrient-dense foods are the key to a flexitarian diet; including plenty of whole grains such as brown rice, and lots of fruits, vegetables, and legumes will help you stay fuller for longer and add a variety of vitamins and minerals to your diet, which will bring many health benefits. 

“Stay organised by planning your meals. Cooking in batches or using a recipe box service means you won’t be stuck after work with nothing in the fridge and end up choosing a convenience food that might not be plant-based. Using a recipe box subscription also reduces food waste, which is a double win as it will help you stick to plant-based foods on the days you’ve planned to and ensure no leftover food goes to waste. 

“Take inspiration from around the world. Lots of Middle Eastern and Asian dishes use ingredients such as quinoa, chickpeas, tofu, and nuts and seeds, which add variety and lots of nutritional value. If you and your family are regular meat eaters and Veganuary seems boring to you, maybe it’s time to do some research and take inspiration from around the world. 

“On the days you do choose to eat meat, go for organic, unprocessed cuts. For example, organic, grass-fed cuts of steak were found to have higher amounts of vitamins A and E, more omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for your heart and brain, and less saturated fat compared to grain-fed beef. 

“Picking lean meat is much more beneficial for your diet than high-saturated-fat choices such as chorizo or processed burgers and sausages. Oily fish is another good addition to support omega-3 levels and is a great source of protein. 

“Following a healthy diet doesn’t need to be complicated. Whether you’re looking to go completely vegan, embrace a vegetarian diet, or you’d prefer to be flexitarian and eat meat and dairy foods less so that you’re reducing your meat consumption without restricting yourself, these tips will help you build sustainable habits throughout Flexi February.” 

3 Recipes to inspire your flexi in February

Curried Potato Tray Bake with Roasted Cauliflower and Cashews  

Instructions for 2 people 

Time: 40 minutes 

Ingredients 

  • 80g Spinach
  • 50g Solid creamed coconut
  • 1 Tbsp Curry powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Ground fenugreek
  • 1 Tsp Ground turmeric
  • 1 Tsp nigella seeds
  • 11g Vegetable stock mix
  • 1 Cauliflower
  • 3 White potatoes
  • 2 Red onions
  • 25g Cashew nuts  
  • 20g Mango chutney
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (fan) or 200°C (gas). 7. Boil half a kettle. Chop the potatoes (skins on) into small bite-sized pieces. Peel and chop the red onions into wedges.
  2. Trim the stalk and leaves off the cauliflower and cut into six wedges.
  3. Chop the creamed coconut roughly (if required). Dissolve the vegetable stock mix, chopped creamed coconut and ground turmeric in 300 ml of boiled water; this is your coconut stock.
  4. Add the chopped potato and red onion wedges to a deep baking tray with the curry powder and ground fenugreek. Add a generous drizzle of vegetable oil and give everything a good mix-up.
  5. Pour the coconut stock over the vegetables. Put the tray in the oven for 25–30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the sauce has thickened.  
  6. Meanwhile, add the cauliflower wedges to a separate tray with a drizzle of vegetable oil, the nigella seeds and a pinch of salt. Put the tray in the oven for an initial 20–25 minutes. After 20–25 minutes, add the cashew nuts to the tray and cook for 3–4 minutes further or until the nuts are toasted and the cauliflower is golden and crisp. Tip: Watch the cashew nuts like a hawk to make sure they don’t burn.
  7. Wash the spinach, then pat it dry with kitchen paper. Once the potatoes are done, add the spinach to the tray and return it to the oven for 1–2 minutes further, or until it has started to wilt. This is your curried potato tray bake. Serve the curried potato tray bake with the roasted cauliflower on top. Spoon over the mango chutney and garnish with the toasted cashew nuts.

Tamari Mushroom & Roast Broccoli Bowl 

Instructions for 2 people 

Time: 30 minutes  

Ingredients

  • 17g White miso paste
  • 10ml Toasted sesame oil  
  • 150g Flat white mushrooms
  • 70g Quinoa
  • 15g Fresh root ginger
  • 15ml Rice vinegar  
  • 5g Toasted sesame seeds
  • 160g Chestnut mushrooms
  • 15ml Tamari soy sauce
  • 1 Red chilli
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Broccoli
  • 25g Agave nectar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C (fan)/gas 6. Top, tail and peel the carrot, then continue to peel lengths until you end up with a pile of carrot ribbons. Add the carrot ribbons to a small bowl with the rice vinegar and set aside for later. These are your quick-pickled carrot ribbons.
  2. While the carrots are pickling, slice the chestnut mushrooms and keep the flat white mushrooms whole. Add the sliced chestnut mushrooms and whole flat white mushrooms to one side of a tray. Drizzle over the tamari soy sauce and 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil and give everything a gentle mix-up until coated.
  3. Cut the broccoli into 6 wedges. Add the broccoli wedges to the other side of the tray (or use another tray!) with 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil and a pinch of salt and give them a good mix up. Put the tray in the oven and cook for 20–25 minutes or until everything is cooked through, tender and golden – this is your tamari mushrooms and roast broccoli.
  4. Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold, running water. Add the quinoa to a pot with a lid and 250 ml of cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 18–20 minutes, or until all the water has absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Once cooked, remove from the heat, and leave to steam-dry, uncovered, until serving.
  5. While everything is cooking, peel (scrape the skin off with a teaspoon) and grate (or finely chop) the ginger.
  6. Combine the grated ginger, white miso paste, toasted sesame oil and agave with 2 tbsp water and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Stir it all together – this is your miso dressing.
  7. Slice the red chilli into rounds. Serve the tamari mushrooms & roasted broccoli over the quinoa and drizzle the miso dressing all over. Drain the quick-pickled carrot ribbons and serve them to the side. Garnish with the chilli rounds (can’t handle the heat?) and toasted sesame seeds. 

Roasted Squash with Jewelled Bulgur and Zhoug 

Instructions for 2 people  

Time: 40 minutes  

Ingredients

  • 50g Bulgur wheat
  • 390g Chickpeas
  • 1 Tsp cumin seeds
  • 20g Coriander
  • 30g Dried cranberries
  • 1 Garlic clove
  • 1 Green chilli
  • 15ml Soy sauce  
  • 1 Whole butternut squash
  • 25g pistachio nuts  
  • 1 Lemon
  • 15g flaked almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Salt 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C (fan)/gas 7. Peel the butternut squash and cut it in half using a sharp knife. Tip: Drizzle the knife with a little olive oil for easier chopping. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard, then slice lengthways into wedges. Drain and rinse the chickpeas.
  2. Add the butternut squash wedges to one side of a tray with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the drained chickpeas to the other side of the tray (or use a separate tray) with the soy sauce and a drizzle of olive oil and give it a good mix up. Put the tray in the oven for 25–30 minutes or until the squash is cooked through and tender and the chickpeas are starting to crisp.
  3. Meanwhile, boil a kettle. Add the bulgur wheat and dried cranberries to a pot with plenty of boiled water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil over a high heat and cook for 7–9 minutes or until tender with a slight bite. Once cooked, drain and return to the pot. 

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