Thursday 17 July 2014

5:2 diet - vegetarian meal plans, reflections and recipes

Late last year I started the 5:2 diet. I was impressed by Michael Mosley's Eat Fast and Live Longer BBC tv program, Horizon.  It argued that eating 500 calories (or 600 calories if you are male) 2 days a week and eating whatever you want for the remaining 5 days has many health benefits, as well as aiding weight loss. I have been surprised at how much I liked it. Yet starting the diet was hard because I couldn't find vegetarian meal plans. So here are a few reflections, recipes and meal plans for anyone who is interested in the diet.

Disclaimer: I am not a trained health professional. I am merely sharing my experiences. I have discussed this diet with my doctor and I recommend doing so before starting the diet, especially if you have any risk factors. It is not recommended for people with eating disorders.


I started out religiously counting calories, and it was hard at the end of each day. As my stomach demanded food, I would dream of the piles of food I would devour the next day. Strangely enough, when the next day came I wasn't that hungry and didn't gorge myself as I had expected. While there is much talk about 'fasting', it is not a starvation diet.  The longer I do the diet, the easier I find it. Though you still might find me a little more grumpy than usual on the evening of a fast day.

I really like the light feeling of eating less food on a fast day. It has also made me cut back on the amount of cooking and groceries we buy.  This diet is not for everyone and it has its critics.  (I like to believe it is good for my health but it seems the research is still in its early days.)  However I like that I have lost a little weight and this has been with no extra cost, no signing up, and no foods I must or mustn't eat.

Having done this diet for months, I find that I don't always calorie count now. I follow a fairly similar eating pattern of porridge for breakfast; rice cakes or bread with a spread and salad for lunch; perhaps some fruit or miso soup for snacks; and a soup of vegies and legumes for dinner. Mostly good simple food. On occasion I have had cake for lunch but I don't recommend it.  Nor do health professionals who recommend good nutrition both on fast and non-fast days.  Here are a few notes on what works and doesn't work for me:

The 5:2 diet works fine when:
  • Drinking lots of water and herbal tea
  • I eat lots of vegies to give plenty of interest to a meal
  • Child free day (school holidays are challenging)
  • Shopping for food (surprisingly doesn't bother me)
  • Busy (eg focused on work) so that time flies
  • I take snacks with me when out and about
  • If I meet friends it is just for a coffee and I have herbal tea
  • I don't eat lots of sweet and salty foods that stimulate my appetite

The 5:2 diet is not easy when:
  • I am eating out
  • I have a headache and/or am sick
  • I do lots of exercise
  • I am photographing tempting food for blog
  • I am baking and storing freshly baked goods around the house
  • If I don't have a good idea of what food I will eat (preparation helps)
  • Christmas and Easter or other big celebrations present me with lots of good food


When I first started, I found it useful to keep a food diary to keep a running total of my calories.  I used calories lists from Tinned Tomatoes and Lavender and Lovage as well as searching online. 

After a while I didn't need snacks as much and found myself making slightly higher calorie soups for dinner.  I still keep a good supply of rice cakes, cuppa soup, miso soup, fruit and herbal tea for light snacks if I need them. And I find a homemade vegie stock helps give extra flavour to soups.

NB I don't get too hung up on getting the calories precise so if they are slightly out that is fine.  (Fro example: my notes say that a small apple is 52 cal and a large one is 95 cal so I may allocate different calories depending on the size.)  It is about reducing calories rather than precision.

Here are a few sample days of my food diary:

Hearty tomato noodle soup - 125 C

Week 1 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Half apple 42 cal
Lunch Hearty tomato noodle soup (from a box)         125 cal
Afternoon tea 3 cherry tomatoes 12 cal
Dinner Italian butter beans
A few vegies
140 cal
10 cal
Supper Half apple
1 pistachio
42 cal
4 cal
Total 502 cal

Rice cakes with peanut butter and tomato, and fried asparagus - 92 C

Week 7 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Half apple 47 cal
Lunch 1 thin rice cake with 1 tsp peanut butter         
1/2 tomato
4 asparagus spears
fried in 1/2 tsp oil with pinch of salt
58 cal
13 cal
11 cal
10 cal
Afternoon tea Happy cow cheese wedge 35 cal
Dinner Broccoli soup 153 cal
Supper Rice cake with vegemite
1 almond
40 cal
12 cal
496 cal

Curried red lentil and dried apricot soup - 141 C

Week 9 Day 1

Breakfast Porridge 127 cal
Morning tea Nectarine 39 cal
Lunch 1 rice cake with hummus
1/4 tomato
1 rice cake with vegemite
60 cal
13 cal
40 cal
Afternoon tea n/a
Dinner Curried red lentil and dried apricot soup     141 cal
Supper 1/2 nectarine 15 cal
445 cal

Sweet potato and red lentil soup - 129 C

Week 13 Day 1

Breakfast Smoothie 147 cal
Morning tea n/a
Lunch Cuppa noodle soup (packaged) 125 cal
Afternoon tea bit of rice cracker
bit of peach
7 cal
7 cal
Dinner Sweet potato and red lentil soup              129 cal
Supper Rice cake 35 cal
440 cal

Nashi pears - 127 C and packam pears - 80 C

6 months later(I had given up noting the week number)
Breakfast1 rice cake and peanut butter49 cal
Morning tean/a
Lunch1 slice sourdough bread
2 tsp hummus
132 cal
15 cal
Afternoon tea1 (260g) nashi pear127 cal
DinnerBeetroot and kidney bean soup181 cal
504 cal


Based on this microwave porridge
serves 1

1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp honey

Mix all ingredients in a small heat proof mixing bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and cheek consistency. Microwave another 1-2 minutes depending on how thick you like your porridge. When it is thickened and oats are cooked, serve hot. 127 calories per serving.

Serves 2

1/2 banana
1 ripe peach*
1 ripe plum*
10 raspberries
1/2 cup soy milk
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp chia seeds
ice blocks, optional

Place everything in a large jug and blend until smooth with a hand held blender (or use a blender jug if you have one). Pour into two glasses and enjoy. 147 calories per serving.

*Variation: I have also made this smoothie with 1/4 cup of blueberries instead of the plum and the peach. It worked out at 122 calories per serving.

Italian butter beans - 140 C
Italian butter beans
From BBC Good Food
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin diced tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
2 x 400g tins butter beans, rinsed and drained
small bunch basil, chopped

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the garlic for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar and seasoning. Tip in the beans and a splash of water. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and serve. 140 calories per serving.

Sweet potato and red lentil soup
A lighter version of this soup
Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 celery stick, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1 sweet potato (mine weighed 233g), chopped*
5 cups water
2 tsp stock powder
pinch salt

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry onion, garlic, celery and carrot until soft. Add remaining ingredients and check seasoning. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until potato is soft and lentils cooked. Puree and serve. 129 calories per serving.

*Note: you could bake the sweet potato until soft. It will make the flavour more intense in the soup but it is not necessary if you don't have time.

Variation: I have also made this soup with 1/2 tsp olive oil, 50g silverbeet, 30g mushrooms, 35g kale, 2 tbsp tomato paste and not pureed it. This was really delicious and 139 calories per serving.

Asparagus and chickpea salad - 133 C
Asparagus and chickpea salad
serves 2

1 bunch asparagus
1/2 x 400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 medium red pepper, chopped
5 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cider vinegar

Trim and roughly chop asparagus. Lightly steam and cool under cold water. Drain. Mix with remaining ingredients. Season to taste. 133 calories per serving.

Smoky kidney bean soup
Adapted from Lavender and Lovage
Serves 4

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion
2 carrots, chopped
100g button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
125g butternut pumpkin (or squash), chopped
400g tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
400g  tin diced tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
good shake of cayenne powder
2 cups vegie stock
nutritional yeast flakes to serve, optional

Fry onion in olive oil for a few minutes until translucent.  Add carrots, mushrooms and garlic.  Fry 5 to 10 minutes until vegies soften. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until carrots and pumpkin are soft when pierced with a fork.  Serve with nutritional yeast flakes if desired.  142 calories per serving.  (149 calories per serving if you scatter each serving with 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast flakes.)

Smoky kidney bean soup - 142 C
Other recipes on my blog that I have used on the 5:2 diet:


Blogs that have 5:2 recipes and low calorie recipes (mostly vegetarian) :

A few recipes by these bloggers:

Broccoli and celery soup - 111 cal per serve - Tinned Tomatoes
Celery and leek soup - 80 cal per serve - Lavender and Lovage
Mulligatawny soup - 215 cal per serve - Lavender and Lovage

Reflections by others:

I am sending the Smoky Kidney Bean Soup to Lisa's Kitchen for No Croutons Required, a monthly event held with Jac of Tinned Tomatoes for bloggers to share vegetarian soups and salads.  This monthly event would also be a great place to look for 5:2 diet meal ideas.


    1. I have been hoping you might reflect on your 5:2 experiences since you mentioned to me you were trying it. I'm glad to hear it has worked for you and I am sure this post will be a great resource to other vegetarians (and non-vegetarians for that matter) who are following it. It sounds like you've done a lot of hard work to get into your current routine. I do wish they would hurry up with the ongoing research, because I think it is a plan that could turn traditional diets on their heads (in a good way!) and the early science is very compelling. As you note, it will never be for everyone but goodness knows the world has had enough of the traditional diets and fad approaches!

      1. Thanks Kari - it took me a while - deleted the post twice but learnt to back it up :-) My routine is actually at a standstill after school holidays and a week of an ear infection but hope to get back into it and partly have written this up to help me get back into it as well as to help others.

        I initially went into it with health reasons and weight loss as my aim but further reading has made me less sure about making claims about the health benefits (have heard some good stuff anecdotally but not sure I have had health benefits myself). So I agree that it would be great to have some evidence about the health benefits.

    2. What an excellent post. I have thought about trying the 5:2 diet and this is an excellent resource. I find I can do green smoothies for breakfast and low calorie soup for lunch but really struggle to contain my eating at and after dinner! Thanks for all of your info - this would have taken a while to compile!

      1. Thanks Danielle - I wanted to write this up as a resource for people who felt as unsure as I did when I started. I have found that this diet has helped me not eat so much after dinner (which is not to say I don't still snack after dinner but not as much as I did). Good luck if you do try the diet - would love to hear how you go.

    3. I find this diet interesting but don't think I could do it. I love some of the recipes, however.

      1. Thanks Cakelaw - It is not for everyone - it does seem to appeal to foodies who want to enjoy their food on a few days of the week - but I think it also depends on lifestyle too and possibly the workplace culture. Glad the recipes appeal

    4. I find the 5:2 diet really interesting, mainly because there does seem to be some evidence that there are proper benefits to it (rather than the usual diet industry diets which are a bit dubious), though it is early days, as you say. I'd be curious to give it a go, my only reservation would be how it would affect me at work - like, do you find your energy drops during the day? Do you ever feel dizzy or anything like that? I think if I was on the 5:2 I would consume industrial quantities of miso!

      1. Thanks Joey - I was really impressed by the health benefits but the NHS is cautious about the evidence and says it needs more research so I would love to see results of some large scale human trials. But I know to get good results takes money and time - I guess at least its profile will help attract research funding. I think my energy levels drop at night more than during the day because I run out of calories for little snacks if I need them by the evening whereas in the day I have a small snack if really flagging and that usually keeps me going. I'd advise trying it on some days where you are busy but not busy with critical stuff and don't have big morning teas or anything (if your work allows those sort of days) - busy means you don't think about food all the time because you are focused elsewhere - and I find when I am busy sometimes I don't have lunch til later anyway so it is sort of like that.

    5. Great post Johanna. I suspect I would have troubles with it because your list on when it is difficult really hits a lot of points with me. But I know so many people that really like this diet and have success with it-mostly men too.

      1. Thanks Lorraine - the diet is not for everyone so I hoped that this list of what I find easy and hard would help people to see whether it suits them - interesting that you know mostly men who like it - I know so guys who find it great and very effective and others who just don't understand their partners doing it.

    6. Good on you! My neighbour has been on the 5:2 diet for several months now and looks and feels fantastic. I was planning to go on it, but then thought I'd try a month of Weight Watchers Online first (as it had worked for me in the past). What I found was that I was almost doing the 5:2 diet anyway! The day before my weigh-in, I was eating very little (which is cheating, of course). Also, I didn't eat much on Saturdays, because we often ate a lot on Friday nights. Anyway, the result has been that I've lost almost 9 kilos since January, and it's been pretty much painless. It really made me realise how much I was overeating (there's just too much delicious food around!), and I started to quite like the feeling of being a little bit hungry sometimes. My doctor and physio are very impressed with me. :-)

      1. Hi Linda - congratulations on your weight loss - it i impressive. My committment to the diet go up and down with what else is on which might be why I haven't lost heaps of weight - but have been pleased with some weight loss. I like the 5:2 diet because you don't have a fee like weightwatchers and it is quite simple. I think they are quite similar in that they help to be aware that you have a certain amount of food choices in each day and to cut back on what you eat. (and if you eat very little on the day before your weigh in it still reduces your overall calories during the whole week so it is a good way of cheating :-) )

    7. Great writeup! I really have to get my cleaner eating back on track, I've been recipe testing for the blog and overdosing on sugar and feel blergh! When I've started similar 'clean' eating kinds of strategies in the past I am all gahhhh for the first few days but feel pretty good after :)

      1. Thanks Veganopoulous - I need to get back into my 5:2 diet too - once you get out of the habit it is an effort to be in but like you say, once you are in the rhythm it is not so difficult and worth it for feeling healthier. Thought I might be over my ear infection by now but it is still bothering me and slowing me down :-(

    8. Yum yum. Thanks for sharing with NCR. I adore your recipes and approach to food. The roundup will be appearing soon. xo

    9. I had no idea you were doing the 5:2 diet. I must admit that I don't know very much about it other than I don't know why you wouldn't be hungry at the end of the day.. do you find it harder to sleep?

      1. Thanks Janet - I don't find it hard to sleep but I do find myself going to bed early on some fast days because I don't have the energy to stay up late. Makes me aware that when I snack at night it helps me get through a late night.

    10. Just noticed some people from page clicking my link are getting a "page not found" message. The URL for my review of the fast diet is Thanks Gill

      1. Thanks for that Gill - I have updated the link (and checked the other reflections links


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