Learning how to become vegetarian doesn’t happen overnight, especially if you’ve spent most of your life eating meat. While you can quit cold turkey (or no turkey, rather), from my own experience, I don’t recommend it if you want to make a real lifestyle change. Instead of taking a huge leap, take a few small but steady steps.
Start With Just One Day
Whether it’s Monday or Thursday, start your transition by committing to just one meatless day per week. Not only does this minimize the pressure of making a huge change, both in eating and cooking, but it also makes it fun. When I first decided to change my diet and eat more vegetarian meals, I looked forward to those once-a-week days. It became an exciting challenge to see how creative I could get in the kitchen and to prove to my husband (who was raised on meat and potatoes) that skipping out on meat was not as bad as he thought it would be.
As time passed and vegetarian days became part of the normal weekly routine, I found it much easier to expand beyond a single day and plan vegetarian dishes more than once a week.
You Don’t Have To Reinvent the Meal
Dinner is still dinner, whether it has meat or not, but when you first start exploring how to become vegetarian, it can feel like you’re learning how to cook all over again. The truth is, however, that you don’t have to teach yourself all new recipes. Start by switching out the meat from some of the recipes that are part of your regular rotation. For example, you can omit the ground beef in your favorite lasagna recipe and sub in chopped vegetables.
One of the first moves I tried was replacing ground meat with black beans. My family loves a good burger, so I make black bean burgers. Not only are they delicious, but they’re also filling and easy to make.
To make them, I use:
- 1 can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp. olive oil (separated in two halves)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 large egg
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- ½ tsp. chili powder
Add beans and one tablespoon olive oil to food processor, and pulse a few times until it forms a paste. Combine the paste with the remaining ingredients in a bowl to mix. Form into four even patties. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a pan, and add patties, cooking on medium heat, about four minutes per side.
Here are a few other simple meat swaps to consider:
- Cauliflower can replace everything from crab in crab cakes to chicken in hot wings.
- Mushrooms can be hearty enough to replace meat in stews or swap a portobello for a burger or other patty.
- Lentils make a great ground meat swap.
- Quinoa can be added to stews, soups, curries, or just about anything meatless to add a protein boost.
Don’t Force It
Becoming a vegetarian is a big life change. Even if you’re eager to get started, the rest of your family might not be, especially your kids. The best way to ensure saying goodbye to meat is a smooth, lasting transition is by keeping it positive. Don’t force reluctant eaters to change right away—rather, start by modeling your new eating choices and keep offering it to them. It can often take several rounds of asking before a child is willing to try something new.
Get kids excited about eating vegetarian meals by involving them in the cooking process. Our summer garden is full of zucchini this year, so we’ve had some fun experimenting with different ways to cook it, like these awesome meatless zucchini nuggets. My kids help with the preparation, which makes them more willing to eat.
Unlike a crash diet, becoming vegetarian is a lifestyle change, and it can take some time to get used to. Don’t expect to make it instantly; instead, take your time and keep the experience positive. Make it a goal to reach rather than something that you simply jump into, and it will be much easier to sustain.
Check back with the Good Matters blog to see how my vegetarian journey is going, and share your vegetarian ideas with us on Twitter.
Image sources: Pixabay | Sher Warkentin
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.