What I've found is that when I choose to eat vegan by day, I choose healthier foods with hardly any exceptions. A salad is always better for you than a leftover slice of pizza. Rice is usually better than lasagna, etc. But I didn't begin this journey to cut out animal products; I began to start thinking about what foods I prioritize throughout the day. Eating vegan has helped me do that in ways that a food diary never could. I am paying attention to what I eat. For me at least, that's more than half the battle.
But. There are some exceptions I've come to understand, that make life easier for myself than others. I have come to the conclusion that I will eat vegan until dinner, with the following exceptions:
- Milk in my coffee. I make a light-and-sweet decaf every morning, and most afternoons. (Sometimes if I'm feeling weary, I make a half-caf. Yeah, I know, I'm a party animal.) I've mentioned the soymilk curdling, and almond milk does the same thing, and the rice milk, well, it's ok but it is full of carbs. Again, I am cutting out animal products to help me make healthy choices. The qualities of fat-free cow's milk are more in line with what I want out of food right now, so I will stick to it.
- Yogurt. I hear the jury is once again out on whether yogurt is actually good for you. For my part, I make my own granola, and it's a daytime staple for me. It's chock full of healthy seeds and nuts, low in sugar, and I don't like to eat it dry. If I eat it with milk, it's not as filling, so I choose plain yogurt. It travels well when I work, is convenient to buy, and keeps me eating granola, which is the best part.
- Costco samples. I do like to occasionally taste their brie around 2 pm when I shop.
- When I'm sick, I might want chicken soup for lunch. So sue me.
- When vegan isn't the healthier choice. Have you ever compared the nutritional content of peanut butter vs. butter? PB doesn't fare all that well. Our spreadable butter is partly canola oil anyway. It is probably better for my arteries if I spread the little bit required to make toast tastier, than the even-more PB it takes to make toast yummy. PB is the vegan choice, but it doesn't always make sense in the context of my diet.
- Fish. Because I believe more fish in a diet is better, and I won't turn down the opportunity just because it's before 6 pm.
- Politeness. Recently I was at a family reunion where the picnic food was sandwich fare. Had I stuck to my vegan, I would have had white bread and potato chips for lunch, which wouldn't be healthy at all. It is against every fiber of my being to request special food unless it is an allergy. So throwing a slice of cheese and/or turkey on the white bread did more good than harm. There are other situations - like having guests in town and eating out at lunch - when I could be a real buzzkill. I would rather not do this.
- Though it hasn't happened yet, I reserve the right to consume regional specialties while traveling, even if they are offered before dinnertime.
- Snacks. If you kept a food diary, you'd probably be surprised at how much snacking contributes to your daily intake. My snacking habits have changed completely since I started eating vegan. My old snacks were leftovers of any kind, or pieces of cheese. Now that that's out of the picture, I choose fruit or veg, like banana or celery with PB. I choose nuts, triscuits, or sunflower seeds if I want something salty.
- Lunch. Lunch has always been hard for me because I'm also cooking for 3 little ones, and their leftover chicken dinos tempt me. This is strange - they actually don't tempt me anymore. On the rare occasion I take a bite, they taste kind-of gross now. Salads, rice, lentils and all that healthy shit you walk past because you don't know how to cook it - that stuff actually tastes good, if done right. It takes more time to prepare, yes it does. But I now wouldn't have it any other way.
- Baking. I bake a lot, and though I don't think the occasional egg or buttermilk is going to hurt my long-term diet, figuring out the vegan has been a puzzle I like to crack. I can whip up chocolate chip cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and I have stopped counting the number of people whose mouths drop open when told they are vegan. Bob's Red Mill makes a mean egg substitute - that if you're reading nutritional facts, is far better for you than egg.