Vegetarianism for beginners: 11 tips for new vegetarians
I know you’re not all vegetarians, by the way – plenty of you eat meat (27% in fact, according to last year’s reader survey), but just enjoy the occasional vegetarian recipe for whatever reason. If you are one of the aforementioned meat eaters, and you have no interest in ever going veggie, you might want to skip this post – this one’s especially for us veggies! And for new vegetarians, specifically.
Rather than just sharing recipe after recipe, I thought I’d start a new series of posts that goes into some of the more ‘behind the scenes’ aspects of being a vegetarian, starting with some top tips for your first few days / weeks / months of being veggie. And, since I’m sure you’ve all had enough of my waffle here over the last three and a bit years, I thought I’d get a few of my favourite vegetarian bloggers to help out. Here goes!
1. Think positive!
“Keep it positive! Instead of thinking about everything you can’t eat, make a list of everything you can! You’ll run out of paper, guaranteed. Unless you’re typing, then you’ll have to stop because of finger cramps. Options for meatless eats are endless – promise.’
– Kare, Kitchen Treaty
2. Don’t worry about labelling yourself
“If you’re worrying about the commitment of going vegetarian, don’t! Try and have fun with it, without putting too much pressure on yourself. A friend of mine cut out meat, but for the first couple months didn’t call herself vegetarian, instead opting to say, “I just haven’t felt like eating meat for 3 weeks.” After about 2 months she got comfortable with the idea and started calling herself a vegetarian.”
– Alissa, Connoisseurus Veg
3. Beware of hidden ingredients
“Remember to check the ingredient list on cheeses, desserts and sweeties as they often have hidden nasties like gelatin that are definitely not for veggies.”
– Jac, Tinned Tomatoes
4. Experiment with new vegetables
If you’re used to eating mostly ‘meat and two veg’ kinds of meals, you might have tended to stick to the same few vegetables – broccoli, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower… Take the opportunity to branch out and try other kinds of vegetables – asparagus, artichokes, kohlrabi, radishes… all vegetables contain different vitamins, so it’s important to eat as varied a diet as possible. You might just find a new favourite!
5. Don’t just replace meat with empty carbs
It’s really easy to fall into this trap – you can no longer eat meat, so why not just have more of everything else instead? A larger portion of pasta, since there’s no longer any meat on it, an extra few roast potatoes instead of your roast beef… people do it! And while it will definitely fill the hole in your stomach (and, to be honest, sounds absolutely delicious), it’s not going to be doing much good for your body. Make sure you’re giving the nutritional content of your meals some thought.
6. Ask for help when eating out
“One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve come across is that vegetarians have a difficult time eating out. From my experience it’s not difficult, especially if you don’t let it be. I try not to let a choice of venue stop me from dining out with friends. While most restaurants will have at least one vego dish, don’t assume that what is on the menu is all they have to offer. Ask what other options are available as most are more than happy to assist. Alternatively you can request that a dish on the menu be altered. Don’t be afraid, the worst they can say is no!”
– Tara, vegeTARAian
7. Help out at dinner parties
“Invited to a party? Be a gracious guest! Take responsibility for your own meals and don’t expect others to cater to you (unless they insist, in which case, enjoy it!) When you head to that family barbecue, take along your own meatless patties or a hearty vegetarian salad you know you can tuck into. For Thanksgiving, bring a fabulous meatless entree that even the meat-eaters can’t resist scooping into. At worst, you’ll have something to eat aside from salad and mashed potatoes. At best, perhaps you’ll even begin to convince even the most steadfast naysayers that vegetarian food actually isn’t all ‘tofu bean sprout foo foo’.”
– Kare, Kitchen Treaty
8. Don’t only rely on meat substitutes
“A lot of new vegetarians fill their diets with processed meat substitutes. These are expensive, some are not healthy, and they nearly always pale in comparison to the real thing. Instead of replacing hamburgers with soy-based patties meant to taste like hamburgers, make your own patties with ingredients like lentils, mushrooms, quinoa, etc. It’s cheaper, healthier and so much more satisfying.”
– Kiersten, Oh My Veggies
9. …but do give them a chance!
I do think, though, that ‘fake meat’ can have a place in a varied diet. Vegetarian sausages, mince, burgers etc. can help ease the transition into vegetarianism, and can help prevent new vegetarians from feeling that their entire diet is going to have to change. You can still have your old favourites, just vegetarian versions. Fake meat can also make a really quick, throw-it-in-the-oven kind of dinner. Some varieties are much better than others – I personally enjoy Cauldron, Quorn and Linda McCartney, but try a few different types and see which you prefer.
10. It’s possible to live without bacon!
“If you’re really missing something in particular, (its usually bacon, apparently!), think about how you can get a similar flavour into your food without it. So perhaps your favourite pasta sauce has bacon bits in – well how about adding some smoked paprika or smoky chipotle chillis instead to replicate the flavour?”
– Kate, The Veg Space
11. Don’t give up!
If you find vegetarianism hard at first… well, what did you expect? Change is always hard! But just keep at it, and in a few days, weeks, or months, it will become second nature. You’ll go from thinking ‘what vegetarian food can I have for dinner?’ to ‘what delicious food can I have for dinner?’