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
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.
- 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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