Being Vegetarian

May 15, 2011

People often ask me questions about being a vegetarian*, namely how do I do it and what do I eat.  Those are big questions and sometimes they’re tough to fully answer, especially in a 10 second sound bite when I’m put on the spot. So, let me see if I can answer a few burning questions in this post.

I became a vegetarian in March 2008 after reading Skinny Bitch. Thereafter, I could no longer eat meat. It was an impulse decision that has lasted three years. I literally changed my eating habits overnight. Admittedly, at that point, I only really ate chicken, occasional ham and no red meat, so I was probably cutting out less meat than the average American. My eating habits were a lot like my mother’s, focused more on vegetables and carbs: meat was not always the main component of each meal.  This perhaps helps to explain some of the “how” with regard to maintaining this lifestyle because it wasn’t a stark change for me, rather an organic next step.

That said, there are a lot of big time meat eaters out there who are trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals into their recipe repertoire. The concept of “Meatless Monday” is a terrific example of vegetarianism taking hold in America and of families who are trying to reduce animal consumption for a variety of reasons. Coworkers and friends often ask me how to eat vegetarian. I can’t help but observe that often the question posed goes beyond a simple recipe request, but is more of a question on how to sustain such a lifestyle. Don’t I miss meat?

The simple answer is no. I don’t miss meat. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never craved it so badly that I started salivating over the smell of fried chicken or at the mere thought of a back yard barbeque. There’ve been moments when it has been excruciating, but these moments happen less often these days. And this leads me to my best advice for those of you out there who are attempting to navigate the unfamiliar waters of vegetarianism. Take it one meal at a time. Don’t think about all the tasty treats you are giving up or you’ll find yourself swinging through the burger drive-thru mere seconds after deciding to go vegetarian. In other words, don’t think, “I can never eat filet mignon. Ever again.” Rather, make the decision at each meal. Choose the veggie plate at breakfast, then at lunch, and then again at dinner. And repeat.

There are ways to make the decision easier each meal. The most important and also the most effective way is to think about the reasons you became vegetarian. Was it because of animal cruelty? Was it for your health?  Was it to help the environment? Whatever the reason, think about it when choosing your next meal. Another great way is to eat before you go. Parties and gatherings aren’t always veggie friendly. While there are likely to be a few snacks you can eat, if you go when ravenous you’re more likely to nibble a chicken tender or pluck a spare rib than to stick with the sad, limp carrot sticks. Clearly, this party wasn’t thrown by a vegetarian!

Probably the biggest misconception about vegetarianism is that you can only eat salad. Unfortunately, there are people out there who don’t consider it a meal without meat (damn, that meat lobby is good!) and these are the people who offer up carrot and celery sticks for the vegetarians because what else do you people eat? But vegetarian fare doesn’t have to be bird food. I pride myself on creating robust, satisfying meals that stick to the ribs and get you through the day. In the three years since I started this food journey, I’ve never gone hungry. Vegetarian food is just like any other food and it’s super easy to make your favorite meat dishes veggie friendly by simply changing out a few ingredient changes. For chili, swap black beans for ground turkey. For spaghetti or lasagna, substitute hearty, earthy mushrooms for beef. Make falafel burgers instead of regular, add tofu, etc…There’s so much you can do.

This leads me to the next question I’m often asked. What do I eat? I couldn’t come up with a better way to answer than to show you a typical weekly menu (with recipe links provided). Note that my fiancé is not a vegetarian but since I do the cooking, he eats vegetarian with me most nights and has never complained.

Last Week’s Dinner Menu

Sunday- Veggie pot pie

Monday- Falafel atop mixed green and purple cabbage salad with feta, olives and hummus

Tuesday-Veggie lasagna with mushrooms, spinach, and black olives

Wednesday-Sour Cream and Black Bean Enchiladas

Thursday- Farfalle Pasta with Artichokes and Mushrooms

Friday- Dine Out

Saturday- Pan fried tofu with sweet potatoes and kale

As you can see, no one’s going hungry around here and the food consists of much more than salads.  When dishes are heavier or richer, we cut back on the portion size and when there are more veggies, we load our plates. I bet you had no idea it’s so good to be a vegetarian!

Hopefully, I’ve answered all your questions. To incorporate more vegetarian fare into your diet or to help you stick with a new vegetarian diet, just remember these tips.

TIP Review:

- Take it one meal at a time and remember why you made the decision to eat vegetarian. When that juicy steak is calling your name, think back to the promises you made yourself and muscle through.

-Eat before you go to parties or events where you’re not sure what type of food will be served. A grumbling stomach doesn’t stand a chance against buffalo chicken dip when you’re not fully committed.

-Plan weeknight meals in advance and make a habit of making at least one vegetarian meal per week.  If you need inspiration, check food blogs (insert shameless plug for my blog here) that cater to vegetarians.

-When dining out, check the online menu beforehand to get an idea of what you’ll be able to order. Avoid restaurants that are meat-centric.

- Make each vegetarian meal count! Break out of the mold of salads and raw veggies by getting creative in the kitchen. Make something hearty, satisfying and flavorful that your family will love.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post! I hope you find it helpful, wherever your food journey may lead.

* For the sake of full disclosure, I actually follow a “pescetarian” diet because I do, on occasion, eat fish. I prefer to use the general term “vegetarian” because its meaning is more commonly understood.

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Other posts you may enjoy:

  1. Yes We Can Eat Vegetarian!
  2. The ethical issues concerning animal slaughter
  3. Jet lagged vegetarian
  4. Bon Appetit Renewal
  5. Tips for the Veggie in China

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

BongoGal March 21, 2014 at 9:09 am

My husband was a vegetarian when we first married and I corrupted him because meat was such an integral part of my diet. Being a “foodie” , I couldn’t conceive a lifestyle that didn’t include meat. After raising chickens, I have come to understand that even the most silly and somewhat messy of animals have personalities, intelligence and form strong attachments with each other and us.

Now I consider it a personal challenge to come up with delicious and satisfying vegetarian meals. The internet and blogs such as this one are terrific resources for vegetarian recipes. If you have a favorite dish that includes meat there is always a vegetarian version, most of which are surprisingly delicious. And don’t forget about meat substitutes. There are more choices than ever! My favorite brands are Gardein and Quorn. The Quorn chicken tenders are fantastic in chicken and broccoli alfredo and stir fries. Also, I have lost weight and feel great!

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sara May 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm

and i only ask the above question because i saw your post on the ethics of slaughtering.

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sara May 25, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I was wondering if you were aware of the dairy industry and how similar it is to the meat industry? Especially, since the cows have to be continuously impregnated and the calves are sold to the meat industry which contributes to it just the same.

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 25, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Hi Sara. Thanks for your comment. I am aware of the unethical treatment of dairy cows. It’s a truly sad reality. Another sad fact is that the dairy lobby has convinced everyone in this country that they can only get calcium through milk and cheese consumption. It’s simply not true. And it’s important for consumers to know that they don’t need to consume dairy to stay healthy. However, if they choose to continue consuming dairy, buying local, organic is a great way to go. I buy local, organic milk from dairy cooperatives that treat animals humanely. I hope in the future more people will do the same.

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Ginger&Rice May 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Yea, my parents think that a meal must have a meat in order for it to be complete. Though I am not completely vegetarian, I do limit my meat consumption. I’m starting to get them to see that you can get protein from other delicious sources (protein is ALWAYS the biggest concern). Love the post!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 18, 2011 at 7:59 am

Thank you! It’s a common misconception that you need a lot of protein on a daily basis and that you mainly get it from meat. (The same misconception is also floating around out there about diary and calcium.) I think this is a symptom of the power that the the meat lobby (and dairy lobby) weilds in our country. You’d be amazed how much food politics drives consumption and shapes our views about food. But I probably wouldn’t try and make this point to your parents. Maybe just point out protein labels when you can (nut butters, beans, nut milks, soy products, etc) to show them how much more protein can be found in veggie friendly foods. Thanks again for your comment!

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Ashley Geisen May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Thank you so much for this! I have cut back the meat in our diets drastically after reading Peter Singer’s “The Ethics of What We Eat.” I’m also doing it for our health (and waistline – hello wedding dress shopping). I went veg for a whole two months but sadly, was unable to sustain in. We do a meatless day once a week and focus on making our meals veggie centric which has been a challenge for two people raised in the Mid-West.

We have a friend coming into town this weekend who is a vegetarian and will be staying with us for a week. I’m so relieved to have some great recipes that EVERYONE will love. Thanks Jen!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Aw, thanks Ashley! xoxo

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Cara (Yourowntwist) May 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Hey! I just discovered your blog today and I love it! I am how you used to be, only really eating chicken now and then! Lately though I have been thinking about becoming a full on vegetarian! I feel like my only barrier would be my husband! He is a marine and cutting out meat would be like dying to him lol! I will try to take it one meal at a time like you said :)

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

Hi Cara! Welcome to Keep It Simple Foods! Thanks so much for your comment! I totally understand about your husband not wanting to give up meat. One of my close friends had this problem as she was trying to become vegetarian. You could always try to do 2 to 3 vegetarian meals per week and cook with meat the other nights. That way your husband can get his fix. Or, you could make a largely vegetarian meal each night with a side of meat that you can leave off your plate. That way everyone is happy! The rule is my house is that if my fiance wants meat, he’ll have to cook it for himself. ;)

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Cara (Yourowntwist) May 17, 2011 at 7:27 pm

HaHa I LOVE that rule! That is exactly what I should tell him! Thanks for the advice! :) I am about to add you to my blog rule because I think my friends would love to hear more about your vegetarian lifestyle! :)

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Emily E May 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Hi Cara! My situation is the same as yours. My husband is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and Ive decided no eggs, milk or meat! The way we worked it out was pretty simple. I stay at home with our son and do most of the cooking, if Im cooking there will be no meat on the plate. But what he does for lunch or when we go out to eat is his business and I dont judge. So far he hasnt had any complaints and has liked all of the veggie dinners Ive made!

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Emily E May 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I also read Skinny Bitch and then The Kind Life Diet–Alicia Silverstone and made the decision to be a Vegetarian. My husband and I bought a Groupon to a steakhouse, before my revelation, and used it this weekend. I was told when making the reservation that a veggie meal was not a problem but that wasn’t the impression I got from the waiter. I ordered soup, salad and some sides as my meal. It wasn’t until my french onion soup arrived that I remembered it was made with beef broth! Since then Ive really been struggling. I just printed your Spicy Black Bean Enchilada recipe and am really encouraged by your tips. Heres to taking it one meal at a time!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 16, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Emily, I’ve definitely made that same mistake with French onion soup! You are definitely not alone on that front! I don’t even want to think about all the meat products I’ve unwittingly consumed over the years. Sigh. But I do my best and that’s all anyone can do. Good luck with your new vegetarian lifestyle. Hope you like the enchiladas!

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Dishes of Mrs. Fish May 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Great post! I’ve found myself eating more and more vegetarian meals and I totally agree that vegetarian doesn’t have to mean salad and celery! Vegetarian meals can be just as filling!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm

So true!

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Kara M. May 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Awesome post! I’ve been following this blog for some time now and to be honest, even though I knew you were vegetarian, I’ve never noticed that your recipes are meatless. I consider going “veg” all the of the time, for various reasons, but meat always creeps back into my menus. Plus, my boyfriend is a meat eater, and I don’t think he’ll ever stop eating meat (although he does seem to look forward to Meatless Monday). Maybe I’m just not ready??

Anyway, I appreciate the post and I love the blog. I really enjoy how it’s mostly about the food, but every now and then you have posts like these. :-)

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Kara, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I take it as a huge compliment that you didn’t notice that my recipes are meatless. For now, it sounds like you are doing the right thing for you food-wise. For some people, cutting out meat may never happen. But, if you think that it might be an option down the road, it’s great to start with meatless Mondays and slowly incorporate more veggie friendly meals during the week. Some people need more time to ease into the lifestyle and that is perfectly ok. Like your boyfriend, I don’t know if my fiance would ever go meatless, but he tolerates my lifestyle and is willing to eat vegetarian when I do the cooking. He probably eats 75% vegetarian and I can live with that. It allows me to eat the way I choose and he does the same. Thanks again for your comment! :)

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Lisa {smart food and fit} May 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Great tips! I’m a flexatarian, but when I was pregnant I was mostly locto-ovo vegetarian. Muscle meat made me sick to my stomach when I was pregnant, with all 3 of my pregnancies. I agree taking it one meal or one day at a time and planning is huge. I know a few vegetarians that don’t eat right, they’ll eat too many processed junk food like nutter butters, McDonald’s double cheese burger without the burger and cheese but with extra mayo and pickles (sounds disgusting to me) with a side a fries. There’s so many great vegetarian/vegan resources on the internet, which makes it so much easier to find nourishing yummy vegetarian recipes (such as your food blog) :)

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I agree that doing what feels right for you is best and meal planning is huge. I also agree that A LOT of vegetarians don’t eat right. Many eat lots of candy and sugary carbs. They will try being vegetrain for a while, but ultimately gain weight and give up, and then convince themselves they are better off eating meat. Sigh.

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Lauren at Keep It Sweet May 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

These are some great tips! I try to limit my meat consumption to organic meat when possible. For the most part, I eat vegetarian 75% of the time, anyway. I love finding new vegetarian recipes to try, though, especially because my husband is harder to sway to the meatless meals:-)

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Sounds like you are eating the healthiest way possible for your lifestyle. Way to go! I know what you mean, it can be hard getting the guys on board. I’m really lucky that my fiance is so open and willing to eat vegetarian. But I also feel like since I do the cooking, I get to call the shots in the kitchen. ;)

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Aparna E. May 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

Not like I need to add more to my comment, but I also do occasionally eat fish. I travel all over the country for work, and we get sent to middle-of-no-where southern cities a lot of times. So “vegetarian” to them means something completely different. While I normally just prepare meals in my hotel room, if I do go out, I have to sometimes eat fish if there is absolutely nothing else on the menu. But, I try not to if I can help it.

I should also note that I’m not trying to be bitter to any one who does eat meat. Like I said, it’s a lifestyle choice and as long as you’re happy with what you eat, that’s all that matters! :)

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Lauren at Keep It Sweet May 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I was on a business trip in OKC while trying to eat Vegan and the hotel dinner I had was impossible. There were barely any items that were close to Vegetarian friendly! I ended up eating a salad and shrimp because I had to eat something.

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Aparna E. May 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Yes, that happens to me all the time. I’m in Kentucky now and there isn’t much in the vegetarian foods option for me :\ Luckily my room has a microwave and fridge so I can make stuff every night for dinner :)

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Yeah, I think cooking for yourself is key. Of course, when you go out you can always ask for meatless options but it’s tougher.

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Dining out is definitely tricky and ooking for yourself allows so more control. If I end up at a restaurant that doesn’t have much to offer, I’ll explain my dietary restrictions to the waiter or chef and they usually can whip up something not listed on the menu. You can always order sandwiches and salads, requesting that they leave off the meat. I also try to be a bit more flexible when eating out, meaning if I don’t see meat, then I’ll eat it. You can’t control what goes in the food when eating out and you’d go crazy worrying about it. Just do that you can.

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Lauren May 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

Great post, Jen!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Thank you!

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Aparna E. May 15, 2011 at 11:33 am

Awesome post. I agree with all of it. It’s a lifestyle we chose. Most Indians are vegetarian so when I grew up, my mom only cooked vegetarian Indian meals. She’s a vegetarian so she would not cook meat. My dad cooked chicken curries maybe once or twice a year, but it wasn’t something I had to have all the time. I don’t miss meat either. I get enough protein from beans, tofu, tempeh, Boca, etc. It helps living in a city that has a lot of vegetarian food too and restaurants too. Most every place is starting to incorporate vegetarian menus into their menu, which is awesome!
Most any place can give you a salad without meat, or sub a veggie patty for beef, or have some kind of pasta dish. I’ve learned quickly that most every Mexican restaurant makes their refried beans with lard so it isn’t really vegetarian, so we stay away from that.

The most annoying thing is when people harass me for not eating meat. Doing the whole “OMG. Don’t you miss it? I could NEVER eat just vegetarian. I like bacon to much” or something. I don’t get it. I don’t go around saying that to people who do eat meat. I don’t sit across from them at dinner and say, “OMG. Do you know what you’re eating? It used to be ALIVE.” It’s a choice made by the person and I won’t make people feel badly for it. The people that really irritate me are the ones who don’t want to know how their burger was made because they feel bad. Well, guess what, that IS what happened. So either realize it and be OK with it, or don’t eat it if you feel bad!

I also had a hard time going to weddings. There was a year where my sweetie and I had 10 weddings to attend in one year. And every wedding didn’t offer a vegetarian option (four of them I was the maid of honor too). Not to be totally mean, but having green beans and potatoes doesn’t exactly equate to a full-on meal like everyone else gets to have :\

Just my inner battles haha. Didn’t mean to ramble. I wrote a blog post like this a long time ago when I first became a vegetarian. I appreciate your insight and tips as well! I’m going on 5 years this year and my sweet is going on 10 :) It’s a lifestyle that works for us!

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Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods May 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Sounds like we are very much on the same page! Your comment about quibbling with meat eaters is hysterical! I agree totally that weddings and potlucks and other gatherings can be tough for vegetarians. Since you were a bridesmaid, the bride should have done a better job to accomodate you (after all, you probably spent a ton of time, money, and energy on her big day). The best advice for that stuff is just to eat before you go and carry your own snacks. Sometimes it sucks and people are not always considerate. But if you’re committed, you’ll make it work. :)

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Aparna E. May 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Could not agree with you more :)

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