My top 10 beginner's tips for going vegetarian, whether you're just starting out on this dietary journey or need a jumpstart.
First of all, even though this post is about beginner's tips for going vegetarian, a vegetarian diet isn't for everyone. I'm not even a complete vegetarian, so I get it. I eat fish when we eat out. And I'll eat what friends cook for me in their homes. But when I'm in my own home, I'm 95% vegetarian.
But even getting to that point took a lot of work to move myself from the meat-centric diet I'd always followed.
This whole Vegetarian Challenge Series is kind of a guide for going vegetarian, but I thought I'd step back from the weeds of details and share some of the tips that have worked best for me through the years.
As a note: this post was originally designed (in my head) as ideas for beginners. But really, this is great for anyone, no matter where you are on your journey.
10 Top Beginner's Tips For Going Vegetarian
Newsflash: Becoming a vegetarian doesn't magically happen where you go to sleep as an omnivore, and wake up as a vegetarian. For me, it's been more of a migration to a new way of eating.
Sure, we can talk about boot camps, jump-starting, and explosive changes. But when we're staring down the refrigerator at 6pm, sometimes, these radical change programs fall short. Too often, it's “I'll start over tomorrow”. For me, major change is more a mindful migration toward where I want to be, than an explosive new me.
So here are my top 10 beginner's tips going vegetarian, or at least mostly vegetarian, with some links to help you.
#1: Be gentle with yourself
A major change in your diet, even if your family and friends are super-supportive, is an upheaval in your life. It begins a journey of finding new foods, new recipes, new food prepping techniques, and new ways of shopping and storing food. It can be overwhelming.
And always keep in mind that becoming vegetarian is YOUR journey. It's up to you to design it in a way that is best for your own body and life style. Keep in mind that it can also take some time for your digestive system and cravings to adjust to a new way of eating.
If you end up being Pescatarian (allowing fish) or just dramatically reducing your intake of meat, it's all good. Anything that reduces the amount of meat on our plates is a good thing in my book.
#2: Do it gradually
The biggest changes in my life have been evolutionary ones. Revolutionary changes have never stuck. I even quit smoking 30-something years ago by gradually weaning myself down from a 3 pack-a-day habit to nothing. (I know, I know. Please don't judge.) But I haven't had a cigarette now in over 3 decades.
So, there are several ways to move to a vegetarian diet besides doing it all at once:
- Start by eliminating beef and pork. Next, tackle chicken. And finally, fish.
- Go vegetarian 2 days a week and build up from there.
- Go vegetarian until dinner.
If you want to go vegan, I recommend starting with moving to a vegetarian diet. Then work on dairy, and then eggs.
On a personal note, I'm working on dairy now. I switched a few months ago to oat milk for my morning Keurig cappuccino and for my protein powder smoothie at lunch (using IsoLean Shake plate-based protein powder). My LDL (bad cholesterol) dropped 31 points (!!!!). That hasn't happened in, like, EVER.
This could have been from either the oat milk or the protein powder, but either way, both these shakes and oat milk are now a staple of my diet.
#3: Don't Make Too Many Changes At Once
Related to #2 above, if you also want to cut out, for example, sugar, it's difficult to take on 2 big dietary challenges at once. It increases the chances of quitting both. Pick a path. Once you're far enough down the road with it, take on the next challenge.
#4: Meal Plan with a Vengeance
It's when we don't have a plan that we purchase things we shouldn't at the market. Or grab food at the last minute that we're trying to avoid or limit. We follow our cravings and go for what's easy.
After all, we can't have pasta every night. Or well, we can, but, hello, it's usually not a great decision for our waistline.
Meal planning is a great way of planning for both the new vegetarian diet you want to follow AND the diet your family wants.
Hint: they might not be the same.
For example, my husband, has zero desire to go vegetarian, and this isn't going to change anytime in my lifetime. So, my vegetarian entree is often his side dish. But I still need to plan his meat-centered plate. Otherwise, I'll just be micro-waving a pre-prepared meat dish for him that he's picked up at the market. (And yes, that happens in our household.)
I should add, since my back surgery, my husband has been great about planning and preparing his own meals, which has really lightened the load.
And don't forget to include snacks that fit your new diet into your meal planning.
I recommend you pick a day, say Sunday, when you work out your meals for the week. Make a grocery list, and head to the market.
I have a Meal Planning Series I add to once or twice a month if you're interested in subscribing to it. You can also go to the right column on this blog, and scroll down about half-way to find a box labeled “CATEGORIES” and scroll down the list to the bottom for Vegetarian Meal Plans and Tips. Or just click on this link.
The early posts included lots of tips for meal planning:
Set a goal of finding 10 new EASY dishes that you love that fit your new vegetarian diet. I stress ‘easy' in the interest of being realistic. It's a way of managing all the changes. Here are some fun strategies to try:
- Try a new fruit or vegetable every week.
- Experiment with meat substitutes like Beyond Beef, Morningstar Farms, Quorn or Linda McCartney's foods. Fake meats are fine when you're starting, but don't rely on them for everything. And don't neglect whole veggies – they should always be the mainstay of any vegetarian diet.
- Pick a new cuisine that offers lot of vegetarian dishes, such as Indian or Middle Eastern food, and find 3 new dishes you want to make.
- Find 10 vegetarian or vegan blogs you like. Five of my personal favorites are:
#6: Know Your Protein Sources
Know all the ways to get protein on a vegetarian diet, and have them available. This blog post provides a great list to start with.
Keep pumpkin seeds, nuts, and roasted chickpeas around for healthy, protein-loaded snacks.
Find protein powders you like. I have one that I pick up at Whole Food grocery store for my non-dairy Greek yogurt every morning, and another one for my lunch smoothies.
Make friends with beans. Cook up a fresh pot every week of different kinds and experiment with them. They can be a fabulous meat replacement, and provide so many health benefits.
If you typically have digestive issues with beans, make your own (for a fraction of the cost as compared to canned!) and pre-soak them. It really does make a difference.
#8: Vegetarianize (or Veganize) Your Favorite Meaty Dishes
Pick 5 of your favorite dinners and make them vegetarian or vegan using meat substitutes like Beyond Beef for your next pot of chili, or lentil beans for a bolognese over pasta. Add spicy chickpeas in place of chicken in a salad. Make a wrap of black beans, hummus and roasted red peppers.
#9: Jazz up Dishes with Condiments
Have a selection of condiments in your refrigerator to jazz up a dish and spike the flavor. For example, pestos either from basil or sun-dried tomatoes. Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes is another great condiment to have in the refrigerator. Ditto for Balsamic Roasted Bell Peppers, Spicy Pumpkin Seeds and Spicy Roasted Chickpeas.
#10: Find a Buddy
Having a buddy to start a new workout regime is a proven way to maintain a commitment to exercise. Likewise, the buddy system can be a great help when changing your diet.
Swap recipes you find and want to make, and compare notes on what's working and what isn't.
If your family isn't supportive, a buddy can motivate you when you're having a challenging day.
And if you live near each other, and trust each other's social bubbles in this time of pandemic, you can cook together.
What Are Your Beginner's Tips for Going Vegetarian?
I hope some of these beginner's tips for going vegetarian are helpful to you, and I'm always looking for new ideas. Please feel free to share in the comments some strategies that work for you!