I have had issues with eating meat since I was a child. It all started when I was 3. On a daycare field trip I saw the cuuuuuutest little piggies in the whole world. I fell in love. And then I was told those cute piggies would be turned into bacon. Right then and there I stopped eating pork, and I haven’t eaten it since. After all, pigs are friends, not food.
But…I still ate beef and chicken. Hypocritical, I know, but I couldn’t figure out how to be a vegetarian in my family of meat eaters. To cope, I learned to ignore certain aspects about food. That made it manageable for me to share meals with my family until the summer of 2013 when I started being more aware of my true feelings about meat. It turns out, the basis of my disgust wasn’t just “animals are cute.” It was my subconscious mind finally listening to my body.
I have a health problem called dysautonomia; my autonomic nervous system doesn’t work right, and it impacts everything from my heart to my circadian rhythms to my digestion. I heard one of the side effects of yoga is being more aware of your body, but I didn’t believe it. After a few months of a regular yoga practice, I became more mindful and more in tune with my body. I started noticing how I felt terrible after eating meat. I felt tired, sluggish, and I had more digestive issues.
Even after months of being aware of this, I still wasn’t sure how to stop eating meat. I was a newlywed at the time, and my husband is a big fan of meat. I couldn’t figure out how to share a life, not to mention a kitchen, with him if I wasn’t eating meat too. But eventually my body said enough.
Next week marks the 1 year anniversary since I went vegetarian. I stopped eating meat cold turkey, and I haven’t looked back. Nothing I have ever done in my entire life has been as easy as becoming a vegetarian, but that is not to say it hasn’t been without its challenges.
I have learned a lot along the way. If you’re interested in becoming a vegetarian, read on for my advice to make the transition even easier.
1. Understand why you want to be a vegetarian.
I had a clear idea of why I wanted to be a vegetarian, and I believe that is a large part of what made it easy for me. I knew exactly why I wanted to do it, and what the perceived benefits would be. Before making the jump, write down your reasons for making the change. This will help you stick with it down the road.
2. Learn how to cook.
If I didn’t know how to cook, being a vegetarian would have been incredibly difficult. Luckily, cooking vegetarian is much easier than cooking for a meat-based diet. There are a few things you need to master, and the rest will fall into place.
Learn how to use a knife. Most of what you cook now will be vegetables, and you need be able to cut things properly and efficiently. You should learn how to make these cuts:
Learn how to cook vegetables. The most basic methods are:
Learn how to prepare tofu. Tofu scares a lot of people because they don’t know how to cook it. My favourite methods are:
3. Learn how to stock your pantry.
When you go vegetarian, you have to make some changes to what you stock in your pantry. There is meat in more things than you might realise. Beyond that, you need to learn how to get enough protein now that you aren’t eating meat.
My favourite sources of protein are:
- Soy milk
- Protein shakes
- Peanut butter
4. Master some recipes.
I cook a wide variety of meals, but there are about 15-20 dishes that I make fairly regularly. These are my go-to recipes. I make sure to stock my pantry with ingredients for these recipes. This means I can always throw something together.
Some recipes to have in your arsenal:
- Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup
- Coconut Curry Soup with Tofu
- Roasted Winter Vegetables and Polenta
- Sweet Potato Soup
- Cajun Tofu with Dirty Quinoa
- Chick’n and Mango over Rice
- Curried Chick’n
- Curry Ramen with Snow Peas
- Edamame Pesto Pasta
- Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich
- Ginger Dal
- Portobello Blue Cheese Burgers
- Mushroom Breakfast Burrito
- Mung Dal Kitchari
- Quinoa Porridge with Applesauce
5. Learn how to eat out.
Eating out has been the biggest challenge with becoming a vegetarian. I live in Rural NY, and there isn’t a lot of food at restaurants here I can eat. If you’re going to brave eating out, you can ask your server for vegetarian recommendations, but you can’t count on your server knowing what vegetarian or vegan means. A lot of dishes can be modified to be vegan, but you can’t trust that your server will know that.
Tips for eating out:
- Look up the restaurant and their menu online first. If you don’t see anything that is vegetarian/vegan or can be modified, look for a different restaurant.
- Check the Happy Cow website for veg friendly restaurants in the area.
- Consider eating sides. There are times I have had to subsist on sides at a restaurant, and that’s fine. A lot of restaurants have sides options that include vegetables, potatoes, beans, and rice.
- It is surprisingly easy to eat veg at some of the large chain restaurants. Check out this guide from PETA. Worst case, head to Applebee’s. They have a new Thai Shrimp Salad that you can get without shrimp and extra edamame. It’s actually pretty good.
6. Switch gradually.
If quitting meat cold turkey isn’t an option for you, start slow. Start by replacing one meal a week with a meatless version. You can try a new vegetarian recipe from the selection above, and after a couple months eating vegetarian will be second nature. To make it a bit easier, make a list of what you usually eat throughout the day and try to make vegetarian alternatives.
7. Watch your junk food intake.
It’s easy when you go vegetarian to fall into the habit of eating unhealthy food to compensate for not eating meat anymore. I try not to have junk food in the house at all just to make sure I don’t give into the occasional temptation. Swap out junk food with healthier alternatives. Instead of keeping potato chips in the house, opt for Kale Chips or Snapea Crisps. I’m a big fan of Sriracha Peas, which are delicious and have some protein.
These 7 tips made it possible for me to transition from eating meat constantly to being a vegetarian. The transition was easy, and I’ve never been happier about what I put in my body.
Are you a vegetarian? What tips do you have to share? Let me know in the comments.