You’ve made up your mind: it’s time to switch to a vegetarian diet. The arguments in favor of a plant-based lifestyle have convinced you it is the healthiest choice for you, your family, and the planet. So now what? Where should you start?
Although you may have done your homework concerning the health, ethical, and environmental reasons to go veggie, and you might have even done the Meatless Monday circuit for a while, perhaps you suddenly feel like you are staring at a huge bowl of lettuce and don’t know what to do next.
The head of a nonprofit vegetarian group told me how she had been called upon on countless occasions to help people make the leap from an animal-based diet to a vegetarian or vegan one. The most important tip she offered them was also the first one: adjust your attitude. Take a deep breath and say hello to a delicious, delightful adventure!
Attitude is 90 percent of the challenge. If you enter this new phase of your life with the attitude that it is an exciting, tasty venture, she said, then you will be more open to the endless possibilities before you. If, however, you believe you will have to “give up” or “deprive” yourself or that it will be difficult, then you set yourself up for frustration and disappointment.
The following tips are geared toward changing to a vegetarian (without meat, poultry, fish) diet, but it can just as easily be altered to achieve a dairy-free or vegan eating lifestyle as well. So with the first tip already under your belt, here are 10 more on how to switch to a vegetarian diet.
Start slowly. Unless you are the type of person who thoroughly enjoys going cold turkey (pun intended), make your transition gradually. For example, begin by eating one vegetarian meal per day the first week, two during the second week, then all three by the third week. You might introduce a new food every other day or make every other day meatless until you get the hang of it. Remember, have fun with it!
Explore veggie alternatives. Unlike years ago, when vegetarian food makers were novices at the game, there are many delicious and darn authentic faux meat and dairy products on the market. So if you have always liked beef burgers and aren’t quite ready to make your own bean and millet patties, then toss a few veggie burgers on the grill and top them just like you always do (sans bacon, unless it’s the veggie version). Plant-based versions of chicken, shrimp, cheese, turkey, deli meats, hot dogs, ground beef, and more are widely available.
Play with favorites. If you have decided to adopt the “explore veggie alternatives” tip, then this tip is even easier! Everyone has favorite foods, and some of them are probably not vegetarian…yet! It doesn’t take much to transform a beef burrito or beef chili into veggie “beef” versions. Veggie pepperoni and sausage can top your pizza and your kids will love the “chik” nuggets! Love to BBQ? You don’t have to stop! Toss your veggie alternatives on the grill (grilled tempeh and portobellos are super) or make shish-ka-bobs with veggie chunks.
Expand your horizons. It’s time to expand your menu, and the options are endless and easy as well! Have you ever tried quinoa? It’s a complete protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids) and cooks up quickly. How about tempeh, a fermented soy food with a meat-like texture that makes a mean Reuben and is great on the grill? Don’t neglect hummus and falafel (tasty bean-based, high-protein foods) that you can buy already prepared or in an easy-to-make mix. From amaranth to zucchini and hundreds of foods in between, introduce new foods gradually into your life!
Hook up. Find other people who follow a plant-based diet and ask questions. Many cities and towns have a vegetarian group you can join, or you can explore the scores of vegetarian forums and chat rooms for information. Visit a vegetarian restaurant in your area and talk with the wait staff and other patrons.
Try ethnic foods. Much of the world has embraced vegetarian cooking, so you can be nearly guaranteed to find plant-based options when visiting ethnic restaurants. Indian, Chinese, Thai, South American, Middle Eastern, and often Ethiopian typically offer the most options. You may want to ask about the sauces or broths the restaurant uses, because sometimes they use a fish or meat stock for a vegetarian dish.
Choose convenience foods. Fresh, organic foods are always the optimal choice. However, especially when making the transition to a vegetarian diet, you can learn about new foods when you pick from among the vast selection of natural, vegetarian and vegan convenience foods on the market. Not all of these foods are created equal, so you may want to ask veggie friends about their favorites and/or check out reviews online.
Educate yourself. Read up on the different aspects of a vegetarian diet-health, ethical, environmental, culinary-and become familiar with its many facets. Hundreds of books and websites offer useful and delicious information on vegetarianism are available. Sites such as the Vegetarian Resource Group, the Vegetarian Society, and VegWeb are just a few to explore.
Tell friends and family. Unless you are a hermit, you will be interacting with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers in settings that involve food. Sooner or later you will need to let them know you have chosen to go the veggie path. Offer an explanation without preaching or getting defensive and let it go. Following a plant-based diet is not as “radical” as it used to be. Best case scenario is to have your family and/or friends join you in your new lifestyle!
Plan ahead. If you and your friends are going to a restaurant, call ahead or check out the menu online to see if they have any vegetarian items and/or if they can prepare something for you. When there’s a family or other social gathering involving food, you may want to bring a vegetarian dish along. If you are going on a trip for the day or longer, you could take some snacks (e.g., nuts, dried fruit, chips, hummus, veggies, whole-grain crackers) so you don’t find yourself hungry and settling for a fast food restaurant! Planning ahead also means you should stock up on vegetarian food items at home so you can always prepare something quickly and easily in a pinch! Here’s a link to a vegetarian shopping list to get you started.
Transitioning to a vegetarian diet is a significant step forward for your physical, emotional, and spiritual health as well as that of the planet. Do so at your own pace and revel in your new dietary lifestyle.