Are you considering switching to a vegetarian diet but don’t know where to begin? Eating vegetarian has many health benefits, but you may be concerned about getting the right amount of nutrients and protein, or worry about giving up meat altogether.
Follow this easy guide for basics like how to eat vegetarian, how to start preparing healthy meatless meals, and getting essential amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals in your diet.
How to Get Started
Eating vegetarian requires a bit more thought than simply taking meat off your plate. You’ll have to take some extra steps to make sure that you're meeting your daily nutritional requirements. After a few months this will become second nature and you won’t have to put as much thought into it.
A well-balanced vegetarian diet includes mainly vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
If you intend to follow a vegan diet you’ll have to find alternatives to egg and dairy products. Milk can be replaced by fortified soy milk, almond milk or rice milk; butter by water, olive oil, vegetable broth or canola oil; and cheese by soy cheese.
Making sure your body is well fed and getting all the essential nutrients it needs makes the transition much easier. I don’t recommend jumping straight into a strict vegan diet, as it takes a bit more know-how to get all the vitamins and minerals you require. If that is your eventual goal, start moving in that direction by replacing a few things at a time.
Nutrition Packed Foods
Eggs and dairy products, meat substitutes, soy products, lentils, legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains are good sources of protein. Calcium is found in dark green vegetables, fruit juices, fortified soy milk and tofu enriched with calcium. For vitamin B-12, consume eggs, milk, cheese, fortified soy products, enriched cereals, or a vitamin supplement. Dried beans and peas, enriched cereals, lentils, whole grain products, dry fruits and dark leafy green vegetables are rich in iron. And zinc can be obtained from wheat germ, whole grains, nuts, and soy products.
Breathe, Smile and Begin!
Begin with familiar meatless meals that you already prepare, such as vegetable stir fry or spaghetti with tomato sauce. Keep yourself from diet boredom by learning to cook Indian, Chinese, Thai, or Japanese food. The largest vegetarian population in the world resides in these countries and they know what they are doing. Don't be afraid to explore new things!
Eat your veggies and fruits. They provide essential nutrients and vitamins. Try to buy fresh, organic vegetables and fruits from local farmers' markets. For better results, grow your own. Consume vegetables that are fresh and colorful. The more color and variety in your diet, the more nutrients and vitamins you are getting. Fill up on legumes for your protein and fiber, and eat whole grains at every meal to keep you full and provide energy.
Try smoothies, a cup of organic or green tea, fruits, or whole grain cereals for breakfast and plan lunches and dinners so you’re not eating salads all the time. Not only does eating a wide variety of foods keep you healthy, it keeps your diet interesting and keeps you from craving meat.
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!
Be warned that many innocent-seeming products do have animal or dairy ingredients in them. You’ll have to be very careful about reading ingredient labels if you wish to avoid any dairy products or other animal products like honey. It depends on how strict you want your diet to be. You can play it fast and loose with the small stuff. However, if your goal is to eliminate all animal products, then that’s certainly your choice and it is possible if you’re vigilant.
If you're just starting out eating vegetarian, you might want a few quick and easy vegetarian recipes to get you started. This Vegetarian Chili
is filling and tasty, as is this Vegetarian Noodle Soup
. Try meatless versions of family favorites, too, like Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
or this Garden Vegetable Lasagna
. And for an old-fashioned meal, try these Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls
Then, when you're more comfortable going meatless, adventure out on your own and create your own vegetarian recipes. And when you do, please come back and share them with us on Tablespoon!
If you are a vegetarian or thinking of starting, please share your story and your favorite vegetarian recipe!