How to Become a Vegetarian and Love It

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If you’ve ever thought of switching to a vegetarian diet, now is the time to do it! With readily available products that cater to meat-free lifestyles and restaurants that are more open to plant-based cooking, getting a well-rounded meal should be no trouble. So what’s the catch? Making the food yourself.

fruits and legumes
Credit: iStock.com

Just like any other diet, there needs to be a conscious balance between processed foods, fresh produce and homemade meals.

Going vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean following a 100 per cent plant-based diet. There are different types of vegetarians.

  • Pescatarians: people who refrain from eating meat or animal flesh except for fish.
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians: people who don’t eat any meat but do eat eggs and dairy products. This is the most common vegetarian diet.
  • Lacto-Vegetarians: people who don’t eat meat or eggs but do eat dairy products.
  • Ovo-Vegetarians: people who don’t eat meat or dairy products but eat eggs.

Protein and Vitamins

For a balanced diet, you need to figure out how much protein your body needs on daily average, and chart out your meals accordingly. You can calculate this on many websites, ask a nutritionist or use an app such as MyFitnessPal to keep track. Keeping a food diary can help you along the way in more ways than one, but keeping your protein and vitamin intake in-check is important for energy levels and overall health.

For a diet that is not too high in fat, try not to use cheese to replace your regular proteins. Cheese is delicious, of course, but there are so many other options! Here’s a list of easy protein sources that are readily accessible and easy to use in most recipes as a substitute for meat:

  • eggs
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains such as quinoa
  • legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • cheese
  • soy products such as tofu, soy milk and tempeh
  • fresh greens such as spinach and broccoli

You should embrace leftovers as your best friend. Making a big pot of stew, a mixed bean salad or a baked casserole at the beginning of each week can take you through to at least mid-week for lunches, ultimately saving you money and keeping you eating home-cooked meals. You can also cook up plain batches of beans, lentils and quinoa and just throw it into your meals for the day to get extra protein boosts.

Next on your shopping list should be essential vitamins that you may have to make up for depending on your dietary choices. Vitamin deficiencies can lead to things like stress, anxiety, exhaustion and mood swings, so be careful to get a good balance. Iron, B12 and a plant-based Omega-3 supplement are a good place to start. Luckily, you can find most of these in fresh foods if you do a little research. For extra help on getting this information, you can look up your local vegetarian association for your city, province or Canada-wide to help you get going.

Hidden Meat

If you decide you want to limit all meat traces from your diet, beware of items where non-vegetarian items can lurk.

Meat by-products can hide in unexpected places as well like Caesar salad dressing, canned vegetable soup, barbecue sauces, marshmallows and baked beans to name a few. Learn to keep a keen eye out for labels — they are your best friends.

Stock Your Kitchen

The easiest way to ease yourself into a plant-based diet is by getting familiar with cooking your own meals. This means having a decently stocked kitchen, which should include at least some of the following ingredients to help you along:

  • cooking oils for frying, salad dressings and baking
  • different types of pasta
  • a spice rack with a range of flavours
  • onions and garlic
  • brown rice and quinoa
  • canned tomatoes
  • canned or dry beans (dry requires a bit of preparation, but is cheaper and healthier)
  • vegetarian stock
  • root vegetables including potatoes, squash and beats
  • eggs

Explore local organic produce from farmers markets or deliveries in your area. Most urban centres have services that deliver weekly boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, which will inspire you to add more to your diet!

Finding Recipes

A good collection of recipes is important to making the switch. This is something you can collect over time, but the internet and Pinterest can be of major help.

Meat-free days have been gaining popularity over the years. Check out #MeatlessMonday ideas on social media for inspiration! There is also a massive vegetarian community online where people can answer your questions, share experiences and offer support.

You’re all set! Get out there and put your cooking skills to the test. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Veronica Sheppard is a Toronto-based freelance writer and photographer. To see more of her work, follow Veronica on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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