I became a vegetarian almost two years ago now. The day after my 25th birthday to be exact. I stopped eating meat cold turkey. There have been some slip-ups along the way – including an alcohol-induced Chick-fil-a meal – but for the most part I haven’t touched meat as much as I possibly can.
So why did I decide to become a vegetarian? The answer might not surprise you.
Devin and I watched “What the Health” on Netflix, a documentary that exposes the negative health effects meat and dairy have on our bodies, and how health and pharmaceutical organizations are working to disguise those effects as positive. As with any health study, this documentary was disputed by many doctors and organizations, but it was enough for me to see glaring red flags. Check it out for yourself.
I grew up eating meat everyday. My dad was a butcher, so seeing raw meat and consuming animals was nothing out of the ordinary. When I lived on my own in college I didn’t buy a ton of meat because I didn’t cook often.
I also gradually became aware of the negative effects of consuming too much red meat. Fast forward a few years, with both of those habits and feelings still in tact, and you’ve got someone who is primed for a dietary change.
It can seem daunting to completely change your diet overnight, but I’ve learned a few tricks that can help any new vegetarian. With some practice and experimentation under my belt, I want to share with you some easy vegetarian basics for beginners.
Easy Vegetarian Basics for Beginners
Find recipes that work
Obviously the biggest transition after becoming a vegetarian is diet. It’s easy to get stressed thinking about what you’re going to cook for every meal.
Most cultures around the world make meat the centerpiece of every dish. But when you start to think about everything else on your plate and forget about the meat part, it gets easier to come up with new recipes.
Stick to simple recipes when you first get started. Don’t overwhelm yourself with fancy vegetarian dishes that could make you resort back to meat eating altogether.
There’s a few basics you can use in a variety of dishes, like beans, lentils, chickpeas, pasta, and rice. Think of these as your building blocks to create a complete dish.
Beginner’s Weekly Meal Plan:
Breakfast: Overnight oats with fruit, flax, and chia seeds
Lunch: Cruciferous crunch salad with dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and poppyseed dressing (this comes in a salad kit at both Kroger and Costco)
Dinner: Veggie chili
Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with nut butter, sliced banana, and chia/flax seed blend on top
Lunch: Minestrone soup
Dinner: Creamy mushroom pasta with wine sauce
Breakfast: Fruit and veggie smoothie with spinach, frozen strawberry and banana, nut butter, and almond milk
Lunch: Whole wheat wrap with veggies of choice and hummus
Dinner: Gyoza with vegetables and edamame
Breakfast: Greek yogurt parfait with fruit and nut or seed blend
Lunch: Chickpea pasta salad
Dinner: Vegetarian shepherd’s pie – substitute ground beef for Beyond Meat crumbles
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast and hash browns
Lunch: Black bean burgers with sweet potato fries
Dinner: Veggie quesadillas
And because everyone loves to snack, here’s a few easy vegetarian snack ideas you can whip up quickly.
Easy Vegetarian Snack Ideas:
- Carrots or wheat crackers and hummus
- Classic apple slices with nut butter
- Trail mix – look for a high protein variety
- Homed granola bars
- Kale chips
- Guacamole with plantain chips
- Banana and nut butter
Grocery shopping tips
Another added benefit is a much cheaper grocery bill. Most people think healthy food has to be expensive, but it doesn’t.
Meat is a huge expense every week and I do not miss buying it at all. There are plenty of meat alternatives now like tofu, seitan, tempeh, and tons of tons of brands making faux meat versions of things like chicken patties and beef patties
I like to buy the majority of vegetables frozen because they last longer and are cheaper with the same health benefits. I buy a few fresh staples like mushrooms, zucchini, and kale, as well as bananas, oranges, and apples.
I stock up on dried goods like whole wheat pasta, lentils, and a variety of beans to have on hand. Lentils are a huge source of protein and can be used in so many dishes. It’s best to buy additives like flax seed, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and granola in bulk. Otherwise you’ll be shelling out $4-$10 each time depending on where you go.
Whole Foods is an obvious choice to find the most vegetarian-friendly variety of food. But I’m balling on a budget still and don’t have time for that. I tend to stick to Kroger and Trader Joe’s. Both grocers continue to add a variety of budget-friendly vegetarian options.
Look at restaurant menus ahead of time
New vegetarians will quickly learn that going out to eat isn’t a walk in the park like it used to be. Most restaurants are better about including a few vegetarian options so that your only choice isn’t a variety of side dishes.
I’ve learned to look at menus ahead of time if possible. If you look at what your options are before arriving at the restaurant, you feel more confident in ordering instead of asking the chef to make some crazy alteration to the menu.
Trust me, there’s nothing worse in the beginning than showing up to a group dinner to find nothing available to you on the menu.
Stick to your beliefs
In the beginning you might have people around you questioning why you made the switch, mocking you, or in general just being a dick about it. Ignore those people.
I’ve heard it all (comment below if these responses sound familiar). “But where will you get your protein from?” “God made animals for a reason.” “What will you EAT?” “How do you stay full?” The list goes on and on.
Anytime you go against the grain you’re going to receive backlash. But if you stick to your guns, and as long as it’s a choice that’s making you happy, the negative commentary doesn’t matter.
How my health has changed
There’s a ton of health benefits to going vegetarian, but I’m no doctor, so I’ll let you do that research on your own.
For myself, I’ve noticed over the past two years that I feel less sluggish after a big, meat-heavy meal and have more energy throughout the day. Mentally, I feel better knowing I’m eliminating my contribution to climate change and my intake of added hormones injected into animals.
I do have the occasional piece of chicken here and there. I will admit to that. But to consume food with an insane amount of added hormones and preservatives every single day is not worth the risk.
I’d love to hear from fellow vegetarians in the comments. What has your journey been like? What are your favorite go-to recipes? Give me some new ideas. I’m always looking to mix things up.