Making Vegetarianism Work for Lent

Greetings! If the writing style seems funny, that is because I am actually not Neal, but his girlfriend. I have also decided to jump in on that whole Lent thing that he was talking about. Specifically, the vegetarian for 40 days. However, I have added ANOTHER element to mine, which is giving up caffeine (in all of its delicious goodness) as well.

I have done this before. I originally started this to see if I can do this; caffeine and meat are everywhere in our society. This is especially true for college students, since meeting group members over coffee or grabbing something from the local cafeteria and discussing the fundamentals of X-inactivation, the genetic imprinting, or just doodling punnet squares to try and figure out how Wolverine’s genotype is (okay, most people probably don’t do that; but I do).

What Neal says is true: there are very many vegetarian items. That doesn’t necessarily make it better (eating a dinner of jalapeño poppers and fries is not ideal). By cutting meat out of your diet, you’re basically eliminating every fast food place. Most fast food places only a few entrees, if any, that don’t have meat. I am personally talking about anything BUT fish (a lot of places do a fried fish thing for Lent). This means that any salad that has chicken in it is out. When you cut out meat from your diet and you go to fast food, you’re going to get something like a side salad and fries. The biggest exception I know to this is BK because they have a Morningstar veggie burger.

This should give you basically no motivation to go fast food, which is good! Fast food has tons of calories and is generally pretty bad for you, as well as being somewhat expensive. Even if you do go to fast food, you’re already thinking about what you can and cannot eat, which is going to put you a step ahead of the game.

Even if you’re going to go out for dinner, you may find that your options are super limited. I went to Applebee’s for my friend’s 21st birthday. I got mozzarella sticks and some of a veggie pizza that wasn’t that great. Neal pointed out some great items last week, especially the Einstein’s bagel with spinach.

I’ve found that it tends to be much more practical to not go out, though. There are some easy vegetarian options for dinner.

If you’re busy and don’t have that much time for home preparation, pick up some canned soups. Progresso has a great line of vegetarian soups, as well as other brands. For most of Lent, it’s probably going to be cold, so curling up with a nice bowl of soup should feel pretty cozy. It’s also got a lot of volume, but it’s mostly liquid, so you’re going to be feeling full sooner. Make sure to check out the sodium content, though.

They also package ready made salads. I know that they used to package several entrée salads, such as a Santa Fe one that came with tortilla strips and cheese. These are good for several days, and if you use the dressing somewhat lightly, can be a healthy, fresh, and vegetarian dish without much work.

If you’re trying to be vegetarian for 40 days, but still have some cravings for meat, I highly recommend Morningstar. They are amazingly tasty burgers that have around 100 calories per patty. I have found that even a faux burger will help with the meat cravings, if you’ve not allowed yourself any fish or if you have a seafood allergy. I haven’t tried any of Morningstar’s chicken substitutes, but I know that Morningstar is the brand of choice for the other 2 people that I personally know that occasionally go vegetarian. I have tried their bacon substitute, however. I will suggest you try something other than that. Nothing against Morningstar, I just think they haven’t perfected making things that aren’t bacon taste as good as bacon.

On to the real challenge: Giving up caffeine. Caffeine is everywhere. By eliminating caffeine, you’re giving up most sodas, except for stuff like Sprite, Mug’s Root Beer, and Fantas. That is unless you want to go for the decaffeinated stuff. I think the stuff tastes weird, so I just don’t. This is still a good thing! Soda contains a ton of empty calories. You should be drinking water or teas instead! Teas contain polyphenols (compounds) that help to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cells, which help to prevent certain cancers (it helps prevent mutations). Water aids digestion, keeps you hydrated, and a whole bunch of other health benefits.

There are some drawbacks, though. Some teas aren’t decaffeinated, which means you can’t get the health benefits from drinking them if you‘re going completely caffeine free, which for the sake of Lent, I am. I really wouldn’t expect you never ever have caffeine again.

I won’t go into the negative effects of caffeine, since Neal talked about them months ago (you have been religiously following him, right?).

By cutting caffeine out of your diet, you’ll also have to cut out chocolate. Chocolate does contain caffeine. If you wanted to pull an all nighter, it’s not going to be the easiest way for you to stay up, but it does have some. This means that if you’re prone to mindlessly snacking on chocolate chip cookies, chocolate bars, or chocolate cake, you’re not going to be able to do this. You’re going to have to turn to peanut butter cookies or a different type of snack (hopefully a healthy one). Red delicious apples are super sweet. You could drizzle some yogurt chips (aka white chocolate, which isn’t actually chocolate) over strawberries. The fact that you dress up the strawberries doesn’t make them unhealthy! You just need to know that you need to include the white chocolate if you’re counting calories.

Lent can be a good way to start thinking more about foods and making conscious choices about what you‘re eating. It can definitely be used as a way of expanding your dietary horizons.

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