Becoming vegetarian is not like starting a diet. It is a transition to a new lifestyle and, like any life change, it can take some time for things to settle in and feel right. Do yourself a favor and take the time you need to adjust!
Make small substitutions and gradual adjustments every few days or weeks, whatever your personal pace allows. Don’t focus on the few foods you’re giving up. Do focus on the abundance of amazing new foods you didn’t know you would love.
Transition with vegetarian meatsTempeh and seitan are used to make vegetarian bacon, sausage, chicken, meat balls and other “fake meats”. While I’m not a huge fan of using fake meats as a main source of vegetarian protein, they can really help during the veg transition and are great for an occasional treat. The reason I don’t like fake meats as a primary source of protein is that it takes quite a bit of processing and artificial flavors and colors to make something look and taste like chicken or beef. To maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, you’ll want to venture into healthier proteins once you’re ready. Regular tempeh has a firm texture and nutty flavor, and is actually quite nutritious. Baked tempeh is a great addition to salads, as a tempeh ruben, or just mixed with rice and veggies.
Because tempeh is made from soy, it is best to buy organic or non-GMO certified.
Try these healthier meat-like dishes
When you’re in the mood for a burger, try one made from beans, mushrooms or veggies. They’re not difficult to make yourself, but for a quick fix, you’ll find them pre-made in the freezer section at the grocery store.
Like the fake meats, frozen veggie burgers often contain artificial flavoring and preservatives, so you’ll want to wean yourself from them after a while and consider them an occasional snack. When you’re ready, there are a ton of fabulous recipes online to make healthy versions of these burgers yourself.
If you’re dreaming of meat because you crave a hearty meal, sit down with some delicious barley stew. Barley is a protein-rich winter grain with a chewy texture and rich flavor that satisfies. Or grill a portabella mushroom, which is known for having a meat-like flavor and texture and makes a great “steak”. Bean chili also makes for a hearty, satisfying meal.
Use beans in place of meat or chicken
In addition, you can substitute beans for chicken in soups, stews and casseroles. And use beans instead of meat for tacos and burritos. Beans also make a delicious breakfast side, instead of bacon or sausage.
Lentils, black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas (as a scrumptious falafel) all make excellent burgers when you’re ready to start cooking them yourself.
Vegetarian cooking classes
When I was first transitioning to a vegetarian diet, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was eating meat twice a day and didn’t know any other way to live. So I went online and found a few vegetarian cooking classes to get me started. It was a smart move.
I learned to love foods I never knew existed (hello kabocha!) and new cooking methods that made my life easier (blanching!). I also learned all sorts of helpful tips and tricks in the kitchen, had a ton of fun and made new friends.
Most of all, the cooking classes gave me the building blocks and the confidence I needed to try new foods and new recipes on my own. It could not have been a more valuable experience and I highly recommend it.
Good to know
- Vegetarian meats (a.k.a. “fake meats”) are high in protein and fiber. Most are also lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium than animal meats.
- Fake meats can imitate the taste and texture of beef, chicken, pork, turkey, duck, fish, crab and shrimp.
- Most fake meats are processed with preservatives, dyes and emulsifiers, so they are not healthy to eat every day. But they are a great way to satisfy cravings as you wean yourself from animal meats.
- Some fake meats contain eggs and dairy, so be sure to read the label if you’re going full vegan.
- Tofu is made from soybean milk and tempeh is made from whole soybeans, which makes it denser. Anyone allergic to soy should avoid tempeh and tofu.
- Most soy is genetically modified, so choose soy products that have been certified organic or have the “Non-GMO verified” certification on the label.
- Seitan (pronounced saay-tan, not satan!) is a popular meat substitute made from wheat protein (i.e. gluten). It has a stringy texture and takes on the look and taste of meat, which can make it more realistic than other vegetarian meats. Seitan is not suitable for those with gluten sensitivities.