Meat has always been a huge staple in my diet. While growing up, steak, chicken and pork were incorporated into my daily meals. My mom held up the golden rule of ¼ vegetables, ¼ starch, ½ protein (aka meat) for almost every dinner we made at home. Burgers, hot dogs, and steaks have always been my summer grill favorites, and every Taco Tuesday was celebrated with a Carne Asada taco (or three).
So I guess it’s no surprise that when I told my friends and family a few months ago that I was going to become a vegetarian, it wasn’t received well. I got a lot of “Oh, it’s just a phase and will pass” or “are you f*cking crazy?!” remarks. I can’t say I didn’t expect the lack of enthusiasm, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be a hard as it was. Here is a list of things that helped me make the transition to becoming a vegetarian from a forever meat lover:
1. Know WHY you’re doing it
Becoming a vegetarian is not an easy decision, and there are many reasons why people make the choice to become meat free. For some its health reasons, for others its environmental, and for me it was because of my love for all animals. Whatever your reasoning, make sure you’re passionate enough about it to let it fuel you. Just doing it because everyone else is doing it won’t be enough of a reason to keep you going. When there’s a big juicy steak in front of you, your reasoning has to be strong enough for you to say no.
2. Ease into it
When I first decided I wanted to become a vegetarian, I decided to ease myself into it. Quitting meat cold turkey (no pun intended) was not something I could see myself doing, so I decided to start with Vegetarian Tuesdays. For several months, I made a commitment to going vegetarian one day a week. It was a great starting point for me to start trying different recipes at home, and making mindful decisions about what I was going to eat for my daily meals.
In October, I decided to try a full month of not eating meat as a health and wellness challenge before the holidays. This was where the real work began. I used my building blocks of Vegetarian Tuesday to help me through the month, and was able to make it through 31 days without eating any meat whatsoever. After that, I made the decision to continue full time and haven’t looked back.
3. Educate yourself
One question I am often asked is “how do you get enough protein & vitamins in your diet by being a vegetarian?”. This may come as a surprise to some, but eating meat is not the only way to obtain your daily recommended nutrients. There are MANY vegetables that act as good substitutes for protein such as broccoli, beans, potatoes, and avocado.
I would also recommend doing your research before making the jump. There are many food & health based documentaries such as “Forks Over Knives” and “What the Health” that show the benefits of becoming vegetarian/vegan, and also bring light to the issues surrounding the unethical practices of factory farming and the food industry. I would suggest that you make educated decisions for yourself on what is good to eat, rather than just accepting information from companies who profit off your ignorance.
4. Look up fun recipe’s and mix it up
For some reason, it is a common misconception that vegetarians only eat salads. This could not be further from the truth. There is actually a ton of vegetarian meals you can make that are not salads. One of the fun parts of being meat free is that you get to try so many different recipes that you would have never looked into before. I have cooked meals with so many new vegetables in the past few months that I would have never even considered trying when I was eating meat.
A typical week of dinner might look something like this for me:
Monday: Vegetarian baked stuffed peppers
Tuesday: Vegan fajitas (Rice, beans, peppers, jalapeno, salsa, in a flower tortilla)
Wednesday: Vegetarian soup (usually tomato or broccoli and cheddar) and grilled cheese sandwiches
Thursday: Quinoa and stir fry vegetables
Friday: Vegetarian Pizza (I prefer margarita or mushroom and spinach)
Saturday: Black bean burgers
Sunday: Grilled vegetables, rice and beans
Changing your diet may seem scary at first, but if you look at it like an adventure or a fun challenge, it will make things much easier. And no, you don’t have to only eat salads for the rest of your life.
5. Plan your meals out in advance before grocery shopping
I often go online and search for vegan/vegetarian meal ideas before I go grocery shopping. That way I am not mindlessly wandering around the aisles trying to come up with a creative idea on what to make for dinner the rest of the week. If you have a plan before you go, it will make your shopping trip a lot less stressful – trust me!
Also, beware of hidden ingredients in certain products. Some store-bought products are pre-made with chicken broth, etc. Make sure to do your research on what brands are cruelty free before making your trip.
6. Know it will be hard, and there will be times you want to cheat
Telling my mom I was going to be vegetarian for Thanksgiving was one of the hardest conversations for me. I know she takes pride in cooking the turkey every year, and she works so hard to make sure everyone likes her food and has a great time. So when I broke the news to her that I was not going to be eating her turkey this year, it was a bit of metaphorical slap in the face.
I guess I never realized how much we rely on meat as a staple in our lives. There have been times when I felt like a burden when going out with friends because we had to choose places with menus that have vegetarian options. My mom has confessed that she prefers just to go out for dinner with me rather than eat in because she doesn’t know what to cook.
There will be times when you want to give up, but I always go back to my WHY, and it helps me stay strong.
7. Look at menus in advance when going out
This one is extremely helpful when deciding where to go out to eat. Some restaurants will label their vegetarian items on the menu, but sometimes you have to do a bit more research. I like to look at the menu in advance and see what my healthiest meat free options will be before arriving so I don’t have to be “that girl” with the waiter.
8. Don’t be afraid to bring your own food to events
This summer, our close friends had a backyard barbecue and the host made tons of amazing homemade food for the event. Unfortunately, none of it was vegetarian. Rather than not eating, I brought my own frozen black bean burgers, and her husband helped me cook them on the grill with everyone else’s regular meat burgers. That way, I wasn’t putting anyone out or making her life difficult. I got to eat with everyone else, and it wasn’t a big deal at all.
Don’t be afraid to bring your own snacks/appetizers as well. I like to bring hummus plates, or chips and salsa as an appetizer for events. Everyone will appreciate having healthy options, and it give you something extra to eat!
9. Don’t try to pressure other people into becoming vegetarian, and don’t judge other who are not. Also, don’t let others pressure you.
Fun fact – my fiancé is not a vegetarian. He is 100% carnivore with a love for bacon and all things meat. I have to give him props, he has adjusted rather well to my new lifestyle (I cook vegetarian meals for us almost every night now). However, I make a point to never judge him or give him any grief for eating meat. This decision was my own, and I don’t feel the need to ever pressure him into not eating meat. I believe that sometimes vegans and vegetarians get a bad rap for this, and I definitely don’t want to make anyone feel bad for not making the same decision as me.
On the other side, sometimes I feel judged by non-vegetarians. A lot of people view it as an inconvenient, or just another fad. I never realized how much judgment I would get from making the decision not to eat meat. My point is that you should make educated decisions based on your beliefs, and don’t be swayed by other people’s opinions of you. Inversely, don’t make other people feel bad for their life choices just because they are different from yours.
10. Give yourself a break
Trust me, going Vegetarian is not easy. If you slip up, don’t be too hard on yourself. I myself have slipped a few times, but it doesn’t mean I failed. Just keep your goals in mind, and try to find substitutes for the next time you run into a similar situation. Use every mistake as a learning experience, and it will help prepare you for a long life as a vegetarian!