Happy World Vegetarian Day! While I haven’t always been a vegetarian, I was never a big meat eater. As a kid if you offered me a burger or a grilled cheese sandwich I would pick the grilled cheese every time. In high school I made a meal out French fries. In college I would have toast for dinner. Transitioning meat out of my diet was not a big deal.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. Sometimes, in the beginning, it was just easier to accept the Thanksgiving turkey my ex-boyfriend’s mother put on my plate. Vegetarianism certainly wasn’t always as healthy as it should have been either. In those first few years I survived more on pasta, cheese and faux meat than I did vegetables and beans.
As my fitness journey evolved, so has my “flavor” of vegetarianism. Vegetarian is a big label with a lot of room for variation. My personal brand of vegetarianism included eggs (ovo-vegetarian) with very little dairy (lacto-vegetarian, due to my sinuses not personal tastes). Some people eat fish (pescatarian officially) and some people eat no animal product at all (vegan). It doesn’t matter what you call it as long as it works for you.
If you’ve been thinking about making the switch, my best piece of advice is start slow. Like any new habit, if we change a little bit at a time we can make the change seem less scary, easier and one that lasts. I’ve also got a few more tips if you think going meatless is for you. Consider this:
A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Vegetarian
Get a good cookbook.
If you don’t you’ll be like me in the beginning: subsisting on Tofu Pups and Amy’s Meals. These things are fine in a pinch, but you’re always going to feel better (and save money) eating real food. My personal recommendations are Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet Vegetarian and The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions. I also recommend getting a subscription to Vegetarian Times for seasonally rotating and delicious vegetarian cuisine idea. Not only will you get new ways to make familiar foods, you’ll discover a whole new world of food options. Becoming a vegetarian forced me to learn about new foods, something I am grateful for to this day.
Green smoothies are the easiest way to get more veggies in your day.
I have learned to love my veggies but it took awhile. I wish green smoothies had been all the rage 16 years ago. Trust me, you’ll never taste the spinach in a green monster. With a half a banana for sweetness, you can make things like spinach, kale, chard and other greens easily a part of your diet. Try my Iron Woman Smoothie if don’t believe me.
Log your food to check your macros.
Don’t go into carb overload. Yes, vegan donuts are missing animal products but they are still donuts! Make sure you’re getting plenty of plant based protein like beans, peas, tofu and lentils as well as healthy fats from nuts and seeds. If you’re okay with them, eggs are also an easy way to get your protein. Try to get them local and organic if you can.
Learn to make your own veggie burgers.
Let’s be honest, the ones in the frozen section don’t taste that great and they can get expensive fast. If you find a good one (like the Black Bean Patty in the Tosca Reno book) you can make plenty to freeze and save for quick meals. You can also bring them to cookouts for both you and the person who will inevitably look at your plate and say, “Oh that looks good! Can I try one?”
When dining out with friends pick Indian or Thai food.
Eating out is the hardest part. Either people don’t care and take you to a steak house or think you require a special restaurant for your special diet. In reality, I can put a meal together at just about any restaurant (except for some steak houses). But the best place in my opinion for veg dining are Indian and Thai. You’ll find plenty of vegetables based and tofu dishes alongside the chicken for everyone else.
While I think a more plant-based diet is better for you and the planet, I understand vegetarianism isn’t for everyone. I don’t begrudge anyone his or her meat because I get that we are all different. Even if you want to be vegetarian, listen to your body and see how it reacts. You may still need a meal or two each week with fish or grass fed beef to keep your body happy. Call yourself flexitarian with a smile!