If you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian or vegan, whether because of religious, philosophical, or health reasons, it’s not always easy.
Especially if you’ve been a long-time meat eater. Making the switch all at once takes immense motivation and may fail. The trick? Become a vegetarian in steps. Here are some tips to help you along.
First, some definitions. There are several types of vegetarians:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians –
Eating eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto-vegetarians –
Eating dairy but no eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarians –
Eating eggs but no dairy
- Vegan –
Excludes all animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
- Partial vegetarians (which doesn’t really count, according to most vegetarians) – May eat fish (pesco-vegetarian) or poultry (pollo-vegetarian).
Here are 7 Ways to Help You Go Vegetarian:
Try Transitioning from Four Legs, to Two Legs, to No Legs or Fins.
- First, cut out red meat for a period of time, such as 1 month. In addition, add one meatless day per week (no red meat, poultry, or fish).
- Next, cut out poultry for another month. In addition, now have two meatless days per week.
- Finally, cut out fish after a few weeks. Now you have 7 meatless days per week.
Prepare in Advance!
- Search online for vegetarian recipes and print the ones that sound the best to you. There are a ton of sites! You can find recipes at Allrecipes.com, Foodnetwork.com, Cookinglight.com, Vegetariantimes.com, Realsimple.com, and many others. Pinterest.com is also a valuable resource, as is the Vegetarian Resource Group (vrg.org).
- Don’t forget Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai recipes, many of which are vegetarian.
- Find some vegetarian cooking books at your local bookstore or at the library. Two of my favorites are The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, by Ann and Jane Esselstyn, and The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman.
Now, Taking Your Recipes in Hand, Plan an Entire Week’s Worth of Meals.
- Go shopping and buy all you need for the week in advance.
- Don’t be afraid to try new fruits and vegetables. For example, did you know that jackfruit is often used as a meat substitute in many vegetarian and vegan recipes?
- Try some vegetarian prepared items from the store, like vegan sausage or bacon, but most of your diet should be the fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Also, try some soy-based foods such as tofu and tempeh. These can be marinated, sautéed, fried, and grilled.
- Use fresh and dried herbs for flavoring. Good condiments to keep on hand include mustards, hot sauce, hummus (which is easy to make at home), and salsa.
Start Making Substitutions in Baking:
- Eggs –
For one egg substitute 1/3 cup applesauce, 1/4 cup vegan yogurt, one mashed very ripe banana, or 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water (wait 5 minutes after mixing to add to recipe).
- Milk –
Use a milk alternative such as almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, etc.
- Buttermilk –
Mix 1 cup soy milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Let sit at least one minute until it curdles.
- Butter –
Substitute vegan butter such as the brands Earth Balance Buttery Spread, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, It’s Vegan, or Fora Faba Butter. Or use 3/4 cup coconut oil or 1 cup vegetable shortening (choose a vegan brand like Crisco All-Vegetable or Nutiva Organic Buttery Coconut Oil).
Do Some Preliminary Research before You Eat Out:
- Use the Happy Cow website (happycow.net) or download the Happy Cow app. Enter your location and Happy Cow will show you vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and restaurants with vegetarian options.
- Check out the restaurant’s website and view the menu. Look for vegetarian options.
- Call the restaurant and ask if they have vegan or vegetarian options, and if they can accommodate you by making changes in a particular recipe. Most restaurants will be happy to make changes… but be specific.
- Ask if the restaurant has a vegetarian menu; increasingly this is a good business decision for restaurants.
- Patronize “ethnic” restaurants offering Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican or Thai cuisine. Many of these restaurants offer an impressive number of vegetarian options.
Grow Your Own Herbs and Veggies.
- Grow indoors and/or outdoors.
Take a Vegetarian Cooking Class:
Check with your local Cooperative Extension program, community college, or city recreation department for educational opportunities.
Getting Your Nutrients:
- Protein –
Include legumes, beans, peas, lentils, dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains like quinoa and millet, wild rice, and sprouted grain bread (like Ezekiel 4:9 bread).
- Amino Acids –
There are 20 amino acids, with the body making 11 of these. The other nine amino acids, called essential amino acids, we must get from food. Animal protein contains all nine essential amino acids, but few plant foods do, except for soy products and quinoa. But a mix of plant proteins eaten in the same day can provide all nine amino acids in the combination. Try for example beans and corn combined, or sprouted grain bread and peanut butter.
- B12 –
The vitamin B12 is found only in meat, so vegetarians and vegans typically need to make a special effort to obtain it. Take a B12 supplement or eat cereals or soy milk fortified with it.
- Calcium –
Find good sources of calcium and vitamin D in kale, bok choy, spinach, rhubarb, broccoli and calcium-fortified tofu, non-dairy milk, orange juice, and cereals.
- Omega-3 Essential Fats –
If not eating fish, omega-3s can be obtained from walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds. Chia seeds are a vegetarian’s best friend because they contain the most omega-3 of any plant-based source.
Remember, start slowly and methodically, prep, prep, prep, and don’t beat yourself up over mistakes. Soon you’ll be enjoying the vegetarian lifestyle.